Thinking about Thinking in 2017

It seems appropriate that this post go out in January; otherwise it doesn’t really feel like a New Year post.  The truth is, though, I’ve been experiencing a lot of ambivalence and indecision about the kinds of study I want to pursue this year and about the way I want to focus my time in general.  So let’s just say this is less of a plan and more of a trajectory, which could potentially change course.

We’ve got some categories:

1. Ambleside Online Year 11

I got attached to Year 11 when I was looking around for a Bible reading plan for myself.  Lamentations through the minor prophets looked especially appealing and challenging to me, and I’m making myself narrate every reading.  But the general theme in Year 11 (equivalent to junior year of high school) is that remarkable point in history when “the sacred canopy” fully disintegrated (post WWI), which is of particular interest to me.  I am a lover of modern art, especially abstract expressionism, and some of my favorite literature is that which squarely faces the despair of this time period.  So I guess I’m not your typicalsayers classical homeschooler!  I feel an almost desperate need to understand my own time–perhaps because we work with college students, or it could be that what was being expressed in the first half of the 20th century isn’t that far off from what’s being expressed now.  Year 11 offers me some fine options for exploration, especially from writers who were standing their ground for tradition, order and norms.

I’ve already read Brideshead Revisited, Fahrenheit 451, The Great Gatsby and quite a few of the free reads, including 84 Charing Cross Road (so fun!).  Several of my all-time favorite books are also on that list: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Violent Bear It Away, Peace Like a River and The Chosen.  Why We Can’t Wait, originating from Dr. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail, which is still frighteningly timely and was viral on MLKJ Day this year, is also listed.

I’m currently working on Ourselves and Christy, and I’m looking forward to reading The Mind of the Maker, Amusing Ourselves to Death and some Edna St. Vincent Millay. 

2. The Origins of American Conservatism

It’s probably fitting then that I am also planning to spend quite a bit of time with Russell Kirk and Marilynne Robinson, in an effort to understand our current political climate, especially the origins of conservatism in America, because I am completely in the dark.  eliotLiving in Detroit, I find myself asking questions that liberals are answering and generally unable to conceive of the questions conservatives are asking (and I’m not talking about Trump-supporters here).  I’d like to understand better, because honestly I feel a little alienated from the Christian homeschooling world at the moment.  Believe me, I come at this topic with fear and trembling and many many prayers for humility.

In this category also goes the poetry of T.S. Eliot–a volume of his collected poems is on its way to me right now!

3. The Leadership of People of Colorthe-warmth-of-other-suns

Lori Harris recently put out a list of her favorite books written by people of color, which I intend to read through.  One of my big goals for this year is to step deeper into community with people who are different from me, especially to allow their voices to speak into my life and lead me.  My favorite podcast right now is called Pass the Mic, put out by the Reformed African American Network, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for this purpose.


dante4. Group Discussion 

I’m facilitating discussion of Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise on the Expanding Wisdom Facebook group this year for sure.  Beyond that lurks the ambivalence.  I have opportunities to join two separate local CM book studies, but I’m not sure I will do either (see point above about diverse community).  I was looking forward to following along with Close Reads’ discussion of a Dorothy Sayers mystery novel, but just finally admitted to myself that I don’t have time.  Maybe I’ll jump back on for the next pick.


5. Piano

I sorta kinda play the piano and got back into it in a big way last year.  Am currently working on Moonlight Sonata.  Am amateur to the max.

There you have it!  I’m sure I’ll have a good laugh over this “trajectory” in December.  As a beloved tour guide once repeated ad nauseum in Israel: “We’ll see what the Lord has.”


2016 in Books 

Happy New Year, everyone!

It may very well be that I only started this blog so I could write annual book wrap-up posts.  I love them.

2016 was an intense reading year for me.  I wrestled with a lot, challenged some long-held beliefs and assumptions and refined my understanding of what it means to be a human being created in God’s image.  Here are some of the highlights (asterisks refer to the number of times I’ve read something, if it was a re-read):

Favorite Family Read-Aloud

A Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne   51srx2kzbjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

A dreamy combination of New England country living and vivid Greek mythology, this book is an AO Free Read, but I think it has fostered some of the most discussion, connections and spontaneous narrations of anything we read this past fall.  I relished the imagery and several passages made it into my commonplace.

Most Spiritually Impactful Read

the-broken-way-ann-voskampThe Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

I knew I definitely wanted to read this book when I got around to it, but one day in November I felt an almost overwhelming need to find a copy right away.  I was in a terrible mood, so it’s hard to say confidently that it was the Holy Spirit, who knows, but from the first page, it was an almost instant correction, call to repentance, call to something more, and the truths it preaches have gotten me through a very difficult holiday season.  I don’t usually ask my husband to read my favorite books, because we have very different tastes, but I’ve been begging him to read this one.

I’m also thinking this will become an annual read for me, a ritual I’ve never practiced before but often admired.

Biggest Reading Challenge

Norms and Nobility by David V. Hicks

This book 6b9b5b4270c1d2a6fc8d19ccff9a5b2ajust required such slow, careful, researched reading, but it was worth the time and effort.  The chapter on Christian paideia cleared up some significant questions I’ve had for the last three years about the Christian classical education movement.

Honorable Mention: America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis (this one I labeled a challenge because it addresses some very painful issues in our country that are much easier not to acknowledge, but I found it a very helpful, clarifying read when I pushed through the discomfort).

Most Pleasurable Re-Read

wind-in-the-willows-kenneth-grahame-ernest-h-shepardThe Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame***

This book came alive for me in a big way the third time through, and I absolutely loved reading along with the Close Reads podcast and discussing further on Facebook–one of my comments even got mentioned in an episode!  I developed a new admiration and affection for Mole this time.

  • Honorable Mention: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis** (I read this immediately after finishing a year-long study of Revelation with BSF…a perfect conclusion)

Favorite Fiction

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson**housekeeping

I’m SUCH a Marilynne Robinson groupie and am moving on to her essays in 2017.  This is her first novel, published way back in 1980, long before she breathed life into the inhabitants of Gilead, Iowa (aka, my family…I think they will be in heaven…just kidding, but possibly?).  Anyway, Housekeeping is difficult (I read it twice in a row) and haunting, and it speaks deep truths about the homelessness all humans feel in this life on earth.

  • Honorable Mention: Lila by Marilynne Robinson (the third of the Gilead novels, also about home, homelessness and transience)

The Rest of the Books of 2016

Novels: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and Barrows, Doc and Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell, Possession by A.S. Byatt, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen***, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Short Stories: “Fidelity” by Wendell Berry, “Revelation,” “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “Parker’s Back” by Flannery O’Connor, “The Chief Mourner of Marne” by G.K. Chesterton

Epic Poetry: Dante’s Inferno

Nonfiction: Generous Justice by Tim Keller, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie, Minds More Awake by Anne White, Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins

AO Years 1/2 (with Ellary): Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney, Tree In the Trail by Holling C. Holling, Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling**, The Door In the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli, Pocahontas, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Buffalo Bill and George Washington by the d’Aulaires

AO Year 11 (for my own education): Ezekiel, II Corinthians, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff,  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (on audio). 


Coming Soon…my reading plans for 2017!

“Enfeebled in body and fretful and discontented in temper”

Instead of accepting the relations, friends, and neighbours that God sends us in the course of our lives, the devotee of Beauty chooses for himself, and cares to know only those people whose view of life are the same as his own. So with regard to places, he cannot tolerate for a moment things which are unsightly and unlovely, so he does not go where working people and poor people have to live. In the end, he misses the happiness to which the Beauty Sense was meant to minister. For happiness comes of effort, service, wide interests, and, last and least, of enjoyment; and when people put enjoyment, even of beautiful things, in the first place (and indeed in place of all else), they miss the very thing they seek, and become enfeebled in body and fretful and discontented in temper. […] [W]e must not let any better-than-my-neighbour notions get into our heads; and in the next, we must make it our business, as much as in us lies, to bring Beauty to places where it is not.

–Charlotte Mason, Ourselves

I wonder very much what Charlotte Mason would have made of our despicable new President-Elect and the kind of culture he is shaping for the unsightly, unlovely, poor and marginalized people in this nation.

Do You Make Yourself Narrate?

Well, do you?

Sometimes I’m so focused on growing Ellary up in her own narrating capabilities, that I forget how difficult it actually is, even for an adult.

For the last decade or so, I’ve been apart of Bible Study Fellowship or something like it, depending on where we lived.  I’ve often described these communities as anchors in a storm. They keep me coming back to Scripture daily, they force me to get out of my Scriptural comfort zones, and they allow me a space to discuss God’s Word in community.

Unfortunately, this year schedules didn’t align, and I’m not participating.  Sob.  So I’ve been trying to re-learn how to study the Bible on my own.  Enter narration.

Um, guys?  It works.

I read through some of the later Ambleside Online years, looking for a Bible reading plan, because I like someone else to give me structure.  I landed on Year 11, which is going through several of the prophets, along with some New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs.  I am loving it.

Here is my narration for Lamentations 1-2 with responsive prayer.


Chapter 1

Zion (Jerusalem) is a princess turned whore, whose beauty, grandeur, influence and riches have been plundered and destroyed, as a result of her promiscuity. She is exposed before the nations as what she really is, naked, with her uncleanness on her skirts (her menstrual blood?). The young men and women of Judah have been taken captive; they have nowhere to turn for safety, like hunted animals with nowhere to hide.

Zion calls out and asks if anyone has ever seen sorrow like hers. She wonders how long she will have to suffer. She hopes that the nations which have plundered her will be plundered in like manner. But does she call upon God? [She does, she approves of this discipline. She sees that Judah’s overthrow was prophesied and that it is a result of her iniquity.]

Chapter 2

The walls of Jerusalem are broken down, the princes and maidens of Zion are dying or dead. Most remarkably, God has profaned His own Temple, destroying it, spurning it, and rejecting its priests. This is a physical picture of what has been the case spiritually for so long–the people have profaned the Temple for centuries. Now God will show them the reality of this Temple, empty and in ruins. Judah’s enemies are still surrounding it and laughing in delight, so pleased that finally this nation they have hated for so long is done for.

Jeremiah cries out on behalf of the people–“Help, God, please!” Children are starving, people are lying dead in the streets, and there is cannibalism.

Jeremiah urges the people to mourn and grieve and pour their hearts out to God, to turn back to relationship with Him, even/especially in this time of great devastation and desolation. He is still there, waiting to respond. Don’t be prideful, Judah. Don’t be independent and angry in your suffering. Approve of this discipline and mourn, and you will be comforted.

Abba, I approve of Your discipline, like Moses looking out at the Promised Land, knowing he cannot enter. I want to see reality, even if that means structures I have built up in my life must be torn down, because they’ve become places of idolatry and desecration. I praise You that when great destruction happens as a result of sin, this is never the end of the story. Even in this country right now, it is not the end of the story. You are always good. You are always loving. You always have a plan for restoration and redemption at the ready. I thank You for Your Wrath. I thank You for Your Justice. I thank You for Your Mercy. I thank You for Your Love.


Does anyone else do this?  I know Charlotte Mason did, and whole volumes resulted from it.







Closing the Book

I’ve just established my first blog category called “Closing the Book.”

Closing the Book Graphic

In the last few years, I’ve developed a semi-neurotic way of reading that has multiple steps and ends with a celebratory (but always temporary) shelving of a book.  Depending on the genre and difficulty of the reading, it can take me anywhere from a day to two weeks to actually close the book down once I’ve finished it.  I’m not suggesting these steps to people as practical advice; just thought some might find it interesting, and I wonder if anyone else has practices in this vein?

I read How To Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and learned about Andrew Kern’s highlighting technique during the same summer.  This brought my reading speed from rapid to…tortoise…paced, and also made my books neon.  That highlighting technique seems to be something each person must make their own.  I started out trying to closely follow the guidelines and realized that my brain was working against that rhythm.  I use pink for proper names, phrases in other languages and words I don’t know.  I use green to mark out the basic structure of the prose.  I use blue for passages I like, as directed.  The main difference is that I highlight in pink and green as I go, not during a pre-scan.  For fiction, I still only underline in pencil, which has always been my way.  (I’m pretty sure that same summer I indexed Gilead like a total freak).

Photo Jun 05, 3 10 09 PMAround that time, I also started commonplacing again.  I have had a commonplace book since 2002, but I didn’t know that’s what it’s called until I started homeschooling.  It had been years since I had made an entry, and it has since become one of my favorite and most refreshing activities.  I’ve noticed that a lot of people commonplace as they read, stopping to add a quote just when they find it.  I prefer to finish the whole book and then go back to find the passages that I feel most exemplify what I learned from the book or enjoyed about it.  (That’s where the blue highlighter comes in handy).  With a non-fiction book, I usually have absolutely TONS of stuff highlighted, and sometimes I take the time to type all of those passages into Evernote for future reference.  Only the most important passages actually make it into my handwritten commonplace book.  This, as you can see, is why it can take a ridiculously long time for me to “close the book”!

BeFunky Collage-close the bookI have also been known to reach the last page of a book and then promptly start back over, because I didn’t think I understood it well enough the first time.  Sometimes I think I’m pretty crazy, but every time I officially shelve a book, I feel that it has been my companion and has taught me much and that I have listened to it and interacted with it to the fullest.  And every time I read through my commonplace, the connections between one quote and another are extraordinary.

In terms of quantity, I ingest probably 50% less content than I used to.  I can guarantee, though, that I’m digesting far more of it than I ever have!

keeping company