Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What's missing from my list of books-read-in-2015

It was fun to put my thoughts together recently about the books I've read so far this year.  I noticed one large concern during the process:

I was struck by how little spiritual reading I'd done this year.  Granted, there are still six or so months left to 2015, but it was convicting to see so little related to my faith on the list.

Now, I've read some edifying online articles during this time but not enough books.  Fr. Roderick's Geekpriest was a sincerely enthusiastic memoir about his journey to the priesthood, use of new media, and Church teaching, wrapped up in geekery.  I also dipped my toe into The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur: The Woman Whose Goodness Changed Her Husband from Atheist to Priest by Elisabeth Leseur.

But any books on deepening prayer? Scriptural study? Apologetics? (At least not straight up apologetics- lots of the memoirs have apologetics in them by way of explaining conversion stories.) Church history? Life of a saint?  No.

To rectify this, I've made a Spiritual Reading Plan.  (And it's not even Lent!)  I am going to:

purchase the latest Magnificat and begin morning and evening prayer with it. For the unfamiliar, morning and evening prayer isn't just one prayer in the morning and one in the evening.  It's a grouping of sacred hymns, Psalms, Scripture, and Canticles.  I'll read the other readings and offerings in the magazine as desired. (Try Magnificat for free!)  I could pray morning and evening prayer directly out of the Divine Office or find it online, but this is screen-free and seems more doable.

read Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus by Sherry A. Weddell.  Nancy at Reading Catholic named it the best book she'd read in 2013.  I've always remembered her review, and I'm ready to dive in.  This book has been talked about quite a bit in the Catholic world for the last couple of years.

read Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? by Guy Consolmagno, SJ and Paul Mueller, SJ.  When I heard about this book on The Jennifer Fulwiler Show, I made a mental note of it and picked it up at the bookstore.  I've already started it, and it's very accessible.  I just have to choose to read something besides the fiction I've been escaping to while we prepare our house for market.  The authors' backgrounds are admirable: Br. Guy Consolmagno, SJ is a graduate of MIT, a Vatican astronomer, and a Jesuit brother.  Paul Mueller, SJ is a graduate of the University of Chicago, a Vatican Observatory research staff member, and a Jesuit priest.  I know I will finish this book wishing I'd read the rest of it sooner because faith and the cosmos is a subject I am currently nerding out on.

read Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer by Leah Libresco.  I'm not a regular reader of Libresco's blog, Unequally Yoked, but I poked around it a little bit after I heard about her atheist-to-Catholic conversion in 2012.  (Her conversion was even featured on CNN!)  I found her so fascinating because it sounded like she thought her way to Catholicism.  That's a subject I'd like to read more about: if I went back to school, I'd study philosophy and theology.  This book is supposed to cover her conversion, as well as be an exploration of prayer from her unique perspective.

reread The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth by Scott Hahn.  I've read this book and want to revisit it to deepen my appreciation for the Eucharist and the Mass. Hahn's memoir Rome Sweet Home (co-written by his wife, Kimberly) was instrumental in my massive reversion to the Church several years ago.  After my reversion, I looked up what else Hahn had written and read this book.I'm looking forward to reexamining the link between Scripture and the Mass.

read Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther.  I read about this book at Modern Mrs. Darcy, and I've been wanting to read it ever since.  I find memoirs so helpful in understanding people from different backgrounds. I'm also choosing this book because I understand Esther converted to Catholicism, and as a Catholic, I enjoy learning about how people walk toward the faith.  I love conversion stories.  Looking forward.

Perhaps a little too low in the stack

Anything missing from your list of books read this year? What do you wish you'd read by now? Do you need a spiritual reading plan?  What are you reading for your faith right now?

What I've been reading (July 2015)

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.  Holling Hoodhood is a remarkable seventh grader.  He holds his own with a tough teacher, bullying, parental demands, rats, a first love, athletic competition, family drama, Shakespeare, and the backdrop of the Vietnam War.  If I went through what he did in the book, I'd be quaking in my boots and/or developing an ulcer.  Holling seems to handle it all with aplomb.  Or perhaps Mrs. Baker and their weekly Wednesday meeting is what holds him together? Charming, graceful, and full of smarts.  Like I said in my mid-year reading roundup, I was fondly recalling this book as soon as I finished it. One of my faves of the year so far.

Wish You Were Eyre (The Mother Daughter Book Club #6) by Heather Vogel Frederick.  Bits of Jane Eyre were all over the most recent release in this series, just like all the books before it.  Each book has homages to the fictional group's current book selection.  I wondered how Frederick would pay tribute to the mysterious third floor happenings of Thornfield Hall, and she did so in a clever way.  Megan's long-awaited trip to Paris Fashion Week is the highlight of this book. Fun.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.  I kept reading this book to see what happened; so, I give the author credit for suspense.  I also appreciated the small nod to Wuthering Heights. However, I didn't really care about the story or the characters.  I didn't buy a crucial part of the plot, but teenagers (including my past teen self) can make really inane mistakes.  I can't recommend this one, though I'd take an island with houses for all my family members!

I feel like I am forgetting something this month!  Goodreads list, don't fail me now!

What did you read this month? Linking up as usual with Modern Mrs Darcy's Quick Lit Reviews.  Check out her post this month for loads of other chats about what people have been reading.

P.S. Want more bookish fun?  Check out what I read in June and my 2015 mid-year roundup of what I've been reading!

Monday, July 13, 2015

A mid-year reading roundup

I thought naming my five favorite books of 2014 was so fun, I decided to check in on my favorites mid-year as well.

Without further ado, I give you my top five favorite books of 2015 thus far, in no particular order and not necessarily published this year:

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. My goodness, this was a heck of a book.  I'd never read anything like this before.  As a fan of all things of the British Isles, being transported into the early eighteenth century Highlands was a wild ride.  This book is heavy on what we Catholics like to call the marital embrace (thank you, JP2 and your Theology of the Body), and that could be a deal breaker for some readers.  However, speaking of, I was pleased to see echoes of JP2's beautiful teachings in the story.  This is not just a romance though; it would be unfair to classify it as such.  It's part romance, fantasy, and historical fiction, all wrapped up in one. Capable, intelligent Claire and loyal, loving Jamie are at the center of this sweeping novel.  You won't be able to put it down.

The Mother Daughter Book Club Series by Heather Vogel Frederick.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy zipping through this bookish and girlish series.  It celebrates the bond between mothers and daughters, families, great books, and fellowship.  We read as creative Megan, writer Emma, athletic Cassidy, and all-around talented Jess grow through the ups and downs of sixth grade all the way to sixteen, one book club pick at a time.  One more book in the series due for publishing. What will be the final book club selection? Any guesses?

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin.  Utterly readable, Better Than Before is a study of everyday habits and a natural extension of her Happiness books.  I liked the Happiness books more than this one, but that didn't stop me from nerding out over Rubin's insightful research into her topic. She uses a self-created Four Tendencies framework to organize the book.  I'm an Obliger.  This would explain why I often try to set up unique ways of gaining accountability when setting life goals, large and small. Take Rubin's quiz to find out what kind of person you are as it relates to habits: an Obliger, a Rebel, an Upholder, or a Questioner.  Also: I'm in the booooooook!

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.  This top-5-favorite-so-far selection is a scoop on my upcoming What I've been reading post.  I finished this book not too long ago, and it was such a relief to sink into the witty (but not too witty for its own good) writing, likable characters, and glimpse into adolescence during the Vietnam War era.  I don't claim to be a Shakespeare fan, but I very much appreciated how his plays were woven into the narrative of Holling Hoodhood's seventh grade year.  Can you feel fondness for a book right after you read it?  I did.

Geekpriest: Confessions of a New Media Pioneer by Fr. Roderick Vonhögen. I really enjoyed Fr. Roderick's story of coming into the priesthood and his determined and blessed usage of new media to evangelize the world.  His book is a study in how being the person God made you to be is all He wants.  Fans of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, gaming, technology, and comics will enjoy this book.

UPDATE:  I figured out what's missing from this list.

What's in your top five so far this year? 

* Achieve the umlaut over the letter o by:
1) holding down alt + u
2) let go of the keys after you see highlighted quotation marks
3) type the letter o

At least, that's what happened on my MacBook Pro using Blogger.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

On encouraging creativity in your husband (or wife)

A Mother's Day treat to myself: new art supplies!

I have been feeling the pull (the very need, it seems) towards creative outlets for over a year now. I am creeping slowly towards more actual writing, reading encouraging books and blogs about creativity, and dreaming a little bigger.

I've always been creative.  I loved dramatic play and the arty extracurriculars as a kid.  I really loved the old, light blue typewriter I had as an older elementary student.  It was delightful hearing the click-clack of the keys as I typed.  Naming my characters was very nearly the best part of writing.

I lost sight of some of that creativity as I got older, figuring things out, being angsty in my twenties. (Wink.) Motherhood in my thirties, with all its beautiful, messy glory, has helped zero back in on what energizes me.

My husband is an artist.  He is trained in fine art and graphic design but seems to enjoy digital art and making costumes the most lately.  (Did you know people sculpt amazing costume pieces out of EVA foam?) He also sings really well.

We met at a community theater.  He was the main Nazi in Cabaret.  I was a Cabaret Patron, a fancy title for extra.  It has been easier for him to stay involved in theater as our children were born, and I have been okay with that thus far.

Nowadays, I'm at home, facilitating our homeschool and volunteering at church, and my husband works in design.

Lately, we've been having an ongoing discussion about how to encourage each other creatively.  We ask questions like this:

  • Could I get away to write once a week?
  • Should I blog more?
  • Shouldn't our next house have an art studio for you and an office for me?
  • What are our long-term creative goals?
  • What could we be doing every day to reach those?
  • How can we make sure we talk about this regularly?  (I think this might involve an early Friday evening happy hour and a snack.)
  • How can we make more time for you to work on costume pieces?
  • How can we meet our family's growing needs (and some wants) while leaving room for creative outlets?  
  • How can we observe and gently encourage our kids' emerging talents?
  • How can we discern for and allow the Holy Spirit to breathe life into our pursuits?  
  • Could we work on something together?

Considering these possibilities has been invigorating and exciting.  I am curious what other couples do to encourage each other creatively, in a large and everyday sense.  Big dreams and practicalities.  Share in the comments, if you'd like!

Monday, June 15, 2015

What I've been reading (June 2015)

I've been reading a lot this month, but it's been pretty light reading with small, quick doses of one fine literature selection.

You might remember this huge stack on my dresser from last month.  I've been working my way through it.  First up was:

Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella.  I've giggled, chuckled, and been thoroughly amused by her other books, and I was excited to read this latest installment of Becky Bloomwood's adventures in shopping. (But why? I don't even like shopping that much.)  Except there wasn't a whole lot of shopping in this one.  I like to read what Becky puts together.  The focus was mostly on Tarquin and Suze (Suz-ee or Sooz, you think?) and Becky working a celebrity angle.  I finished it but didn't enjoy it as much as the others.  I was surprised by the ending, too.  It seemed like a ploy or trick. Next, I tried to read:

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon, but I abandoned it a little ways in.  I abandoned it in a "I'll likely come back to this but am just not in the mood for it right now" kind of way.  Not being able to pronounce words, places, and names drives me a little batty.  (Why didn't I look up how to pronounce Sassenach sooner?)  All of the French names were getting to me.  I enjoyed the beginning of the book (wow, a complete turnaround from the end of the first in this series!), but then, I decided that it was too much for right now.  I also abandoned the new Brooke Shields memoir about her mom a few pages in.  Then, I moved onto the fun...

Pies and Prejudice (The Mother-Daughter Book Club, #4) by Heather Vogel Frederick.  These books are too fun to read.  The author went all out for the ending of this one.  I guess you have to when your book is inspired by Pride and Prejudice!  There's a big dose of all things English, if that's your cup of tea.

I also read another Liane Moriarty book this month.  The Husband's Secret had a secret I just couldn't buy into, but I kept reading it because I wanted to see what happened with another plot in the story.  Moriarty can pull her reader in with a great narrative voice, but so much of this book wasn't believable.  The epilogue plain ticked me off.  Too much cheese.  To date, Big Little Lies is my favorite of this author's books.

Instead of grabbing another book off of my precarious stack, I found myself floating over to the Mother-Daughter Book Club books at my next fairly unnecessary library trip.  Home for the Holidays (book #5) made its way home with me and was quickly finished.  For being Becca's story, there wasn't much focus on her and her family's situation.  Still, I'm glad I read it, for now I want to read the Betsy-Tacy series, which Nancy at Reading Catholic often mentions!  They sound like books that I would love but never discovered as a kid.

Next to last this month was Austin Kleon's new Show Your Work!: 10 Ten Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered.  A very nice follow up to Steal Like an Artist (one of my top 5 favorites I read last year), this book is another shot in the arm for creatives.  I bought new art supplies and a Moleskin because of him.

Finally, I read Rainbow Rowell's Landline, which showcases her talent of writing dialogue.  She's like Moriarty in that her narrative voice is very strong.  The magical plot device almost made me ditch the book, but I really like her novels and wanted to see it through.  The main character's husband, Neal, seemed underdeveloped.  What was I supposed to learn about him?  I felt like he was supposed to gain some insight by the end, but it never really happened.  And why did Georgie love him so much?  What was their connection?  Much of this book didn't feel fully realized, but I'm glad I read it.  My favorite Rowell book is still Eleanor & Park, followed by Fangirl, and this is a distant third.

I also reached a milestone in my classic literature selection this month.  I hit 200 (out of 600+) digital pages on my Kindle app.  Whoo-hoo!  I think I can, I think I can......if I finish, I'll let myself watch the movie (again)!  I should be done by now, but I kept (keep!) picking up other books and sabotaging myself.

Tell me what you're reading in the comments.  Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit, as usual.  Click over there for more what-have-you-been-reading fun.

Friday, May 15, 2015

End-of-the-year homeschool thoughts

Halfway done with the month and still haven't crowned Mary

More than one person has asked lately when school is over for my family.  Quite oddly, the question caught me off guard.

I did not have an answer.

Last year, I had an almost five-month-old this time of year and just up and quit at the end of May. I hadn't planned on when to end our school year, and I finally realized I could.  If I remember right, I might have hoped to school a bit through the summer, in a reduced capacity (e.g. math games, reading, handwriting).  Instead, I let go.  (Good call.)

But then we just stopped.  Full stop.  It helped that it was husband's birthday and Memorial Day Weekend.  The time period certainly encouraged me.  It was a good time to stop.

A particularly long game of Corners
This year, I could do the same and might very well still.

However, I would like to finish two things:

1) listening to and doing the map work for Story of the World, Volume One, the Ancient World. We also enjoy interlibrary loaning lots of the literature suggestions in the companion activity guide; so, we might go ahead and do that, too.

2) Right Start Math Level B.  We are approximately ten lessons from the end.

So, maybe we'll stop when that's all done.  Sounds pretty good.

Are you about done with the homeschool year? Do you have a favorite date you like to end on?  Or are you like me and want to complete something first?  Tell me in the comments!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What I've been reading (May 2015)

Real-life dresser stack waiting to fall over

It's the fun time of the month again: time to share what I've been reading with the Modern Mrs. Darcy Quick Lit linkup!  

I had brought home a big stack from the library a while ago, and I just couldn't gain traction with some of the titles.  I'll share what I abandoned farther below, but here's what got shaken out of the stack:

When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago.  I've been on a memoir kick since my college days when my sociology professor had us write our autobiographies.  She introduced some of us to titles that would help us realize our projects more vividly and illuminate lives different from our own.  This book made me think of her and our projects.  I appreciated the candid look into big family life in rural Puerto Rico.  Santiago's mother continues to stand out to me as quite the figure: just busting tail to support her family, keep her kids safe, and encourage them to make better lives for themselves.  The book's summary in various places online made references to her journey to Harvard; so, I kept waiting for the narrative to speed up.  Eventually, I realized this is a series of memoirs, and this first book in the series only takes you to her high school years.

Dear Pen Pal, the next book in The Mother-Daughter Book Club Series by Heather Vogel Frederick, affectionately imitates Jean Webster books, especially Daddy Long-Legs.  I needed something easy and breezy, and this book-themed book provided a nice break.  That being said, I couldn't shake an adolescent lit professor's comments about Daddy Long Legs being kind of creepy from my mind because of who Judy's benefactor turns out to be and what that means for the story.  I should read Daddy Long Legs again with a critical eye for I can't remember much about it except its epistolary format and that I liked it well enough.  A bonus about the Mother-Daughter series?  The Concord setting is fun and pleasant.  I've been to Boston a couple of times but never Concord.  I'd love to visit!

Besides these two books, I've also been moving through the last Well-Read Mom selection for the year at a respectable pace, but you probably won't hear about that until July.  Reading an electronic version of that book is undoubtedly helping me not be overwhelmed by its heft, though I don't enjoy staring at the smartphone that long.  I also thumbed through Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey for some interesting factoids about the various schedules and routines of famous creatives.

This month, I abandoned:

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead because the storyline just wasn't grabbing me after a chapter or so, as well as

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert despite its killer description and title, and finally,

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  I read it in high school but wanted to read it again.  I had to let it go after a while.  I needed a lighter read that the book couldn't provide.  I will return to it eventually.

What have you been reading?

P.S.  Read more bookish posts!