I've noticed something that happens every year, in two steps:
(1) I spend all year longing for autumn and the winter holidays,
(2) As soon as September hits, I am so stressed and overloaded that I'm watching the clock till January hits.
Can anyone identify with this?
Seriously, autumn is my favorite season. And I adore the holidays and the liturgical year that progresses from Michaelmas into Advent, through Christmas and Epiphany. I live for all of that.
But it can be a bit much. It's always difficult to make the holiday season special without making myself a stressed-out mess.
Trying to find that right balance, as a mother, is a constant tension. Though I've made progress, I've never done it perfectly (or even well).
It's an interesting phenomenon to consider.
|Our Christmas wreath project from last year. I committed to making two kits of these to sell at our upcoming Christmas craft boutique. Considering that they're due in a week and a half and we haven't started yet.. mmm, well, hmm.|
In other news:
This past month we traveled north for my father to receive military honors at the VA cemetery several hours away from our home. It was an emotional time, especially for my poor mom, who received the folded flag and had to see her husband's ashes laid to rest. It was hard on all of us, but I think it was the worst for her. In seeing her go through all of this, I cannot help but look to the future and wonder if I will be called to the same grief - that of laying a husband to rest, of letting go and saying goodbye till eternity. And if it's not I who am called, it will be my husband who is. Either way, it's a hard truth.
It also brought a lot of thoughts: Primarily, that my dad's pilgrimage here is done. For better or worse, his journey on earth is over. He did a great job, and I could not have asked for a better dad. Doubtless, he made mistakes and committed many sins, many of which he most likely regretted, but now it was time for him to return to his Creator.
To put it bluntly, each of us will face that same moment of ending, and of reckoning. Our time here is not endless. We feel like it is, and modern society encourages us to think that way ("don't think about death, just buy-buy-buy!"), but mortality - death - is the final reality. At some point, our journey here will be over, and we will, for better or worse, be called home.
May we use our time wisely and well.
In a similar vein, our eldest graduated from high school this past summer. Like my father's death, our son's graduation was actually quite unexpected. We'd hit some potholes along the way, things were a bit messy, and we really didn't know how or when he was going to graduate. But he decided that the time was now, and he pushed it through. We're very proud of him, and now we wait for the next chapter to unfold.
But for me, as a teacher, there is the same reckoning. Our educational journey is over. Though it seemed endless, it actually had an endpoint, and we reached it before I realized it. The judgment of how well I did as a teacher - and how well he did as a student - will be in how he chooses to live his life going forward.
How did I do? I'm not sure. My failures were legion. My insufficiencies were too many to count. My regrets are many. At the same time, I can absolutely say that I did the best I could. Furthermore, I have to admit, I was able to give to our eldest far more - in terms of my energy, my time, and my overly-ambitious undertakings - than I shall be able to give to any of our subsequent children. That is sobering, considering how many things with our eldest were wished for but never completed (or even attempted).
I suspect that a homeschool journey and a life lived are much the same. We do our best - but sin and human frailty play an enormous part. We must do our best and also rely on grace.
In homeschooling and parenting, as in life, may we use our time wisely and well.
And now, let's have a few books:
For Teens & Adults
Let's start with an author introduction: Vesper Stamper. Have you heard of her? If not, you should have!
I learned about Vesper Stamper while watching an interview with her:
The interview is utterly fascinating, so if you just scrolled past, go back and watch the video. Seriously.
After enjoying the interview, I checked two of Stamper's books out of our public library - What the Night Sings and Berliners. They both blew me away. Let's check them out:
A girl grows up in Nazi Germany not knowing, until she and her father are arrested, that she is Jewish. Her father is soon killed, but she herself survives through until Liberation. While the story tells of her childhood and the torments of her incarceration, one of the main focal points of the book is one that is almost universally untold - what happened to concentration camp inmates after they were liberated. For the main character, this involved living in the freed concentration camp, marriage, leaving the camp, and eventually emigrating to the newly-formed nation of Israel.
Parents will want to preview this book to make sure that a student is ready for this book, as the subject matter is very dark. There is also some gentle sexuality in the telling (mainly G-rated) of a married couple's first night together. On the whole, I'd say that this novel - and the next - are for older teens and adults.
This book may be considered a sequel to the first, as it continues the life story of the man who was - unbeknownst to the reader in the first book - the betrayer of the main character and her father. He is now married and the father of two boys, and the story continues in Berlin during the days preceding the building of the Berlin Wall.
Several intertwining themes spanned the length of this book. Firstly, on the part of the parents, the question is asked: What became of the Nazis? Yes, many officials were prosecuted during the Nuremberg trials, but many regular citizens were complicit in Nazi war crimes. Those people went back to their regular lives, but many had to deal long-term with the darkness of their pasts, as the father did in this book.
A second theme is how the two brothers react to the political climate. One enthusiastically and passionately embraces Communism; the other is a skeptic. In the end, they end up on different sides of the Wall.
The book is shocking in that it ends - quite suddenly - with many unanswered questions. What will happen to the parents' marriage? What will happen to the mother? And to the other characters? This is not a Lord of the Rings ending in which each and every story line is neatly and tidily finished up in elaborate detail. Instead, the author leaves you hanging - and it's a very effective way to end a book.
In the interview linked above, Stamper mentions that it takes her several years to write a book. And it shows. The depth of historical research, of really getting into a historical time period, is astounding. The workmanship is superb. You will not need any other resource to study post-war Berlin.
I read this book so long ago that I cannot remember details about language, sexuality, etc. Again, parents, pre-read. It's super-dark stuff. But this book is certainly the best historical fiction that I've found on the Berlin Wall. In all honesty, it's some of the best historical fiction I've found on any topic. As a wide reader of children's fiction, I can tell you that there is a lot of really mediocre and downright crummy children's (and teen and adult) historical fiction out there. (There are entire series of the stuff.) This is different. It's pure gold. And it was a joy to read.
And now, onto a few other books!
How to Save the West: Ancient Wisdom for 5 Modern Crises (Spencer Klavan) – Theology, politics, worldview, philosophy, religion.
This book is like fine fudge. It needs to be read in small bites, and savored - because it is so rich, and so good, that it cannot be rushed. This book is a masterpiece, and I highly recommend it. Don't just read it at the library - buy a copy. (Or many copies. And hand them out in public places. It couldn't hurt.)
The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You (Shannan Martin) - Christian living.
I was so looking forward to this book, which I found recommended in another book from last month's Books Lately. Not only is the cover absolutely delightful, but I adore books about hospitality. Hospitality is a weak spot with me - I love the idea of it, and I really do try, but I am also an alone-time loving introvert who tends to take out any stress in hermit-like behavior. (Any fellow hermits out there?) So I know that hospitality is something that will always be both a joy and a struggle for me, and I love any encouragement or tips that I can get.
First, the positives:
The author, Shannan Martin, is very well-intentioned. She is reaching out to people in her community. And the basic message of the book is sound - that we should reach out into our surrounding neighborhoods and communities to invite people into our homes - even people who don't look quite like us. And she is obviously doing a better job at this than I am.
The book constantly straddles the fence true forms and false forms - between Christianity and progressive Christianity, between hospitality and woke social justice. The author seems to see many or most things in terms of race. Additionally, her language veers into wild and semi-hysterical emotional language that many times doesn't even make sense. (Think Rob Bell.)
So, alas, I cannot recommend this book. But I do appreciate the author's good intentions.
If you want a great book on hospitality - though one that will leave you with a racing heart and a permanent guilt trip - try Rosaria Butterfeld's The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World.
Does anyone out there have other great books on hospitality to recommend?
Carry On, Jeeves (P.G. Wodehouse) - Fiction, humor.
My monthly Jeeves & Wooster fix. Mmmm.
(Sorry, folks, can't figure out the formatting problem with that past entry.)
For ChildrenMore All-of-a-Kind Family (Book #2 in the All-of-a-Kind Family Series by Sydney Taylor) - Non-fiction chapter book of a Jewish family in early twentieth-century America.
After having known and loved the first book from childhood, I am very much enjoying continuing on with the series. This book introduces two new characters - an uncle (whose name I cannot recall) and his love interest, Lena. We enjoyed this very much.
Hanna's Cold Winter (Trish Marx) - Lightly fictionalized non-fiction picture book.
- Day 1 = Bake the cake, slice and freeze.
- Day 2 = Assemble. (Depending on how many ice cream flavors you use, this can take many steps. We used only one ice cream, so it wasn't too long.)
- Day 3 = Eat.