30 November 2008

Tom Sawyer

I've found that I need to read a 'boy's book' occasionally. My sons seem like alien creatures to me at times and getting the inside view of a boy's mind through good literature helps me so much.  When I see my sons in literature, I'm reminded that maybe they're not so odd after all!

Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer is one of my favorites. It was so nice to re-visit all the characters. I especially love Aunt Polly and understand her reluctance to discipline Tom too severely.

I don't have many literary insights - they've all been stated before, much more eloquently and insightfully than anything I could offer, except that maybe this is one proof that classics don't have to be hard or dull reading.


26 November 2008

The Bird in the Tree

Finished this and it was wonderful!  It's the story of Lucilla Elliot and her home of Damerosehay, a refuge and sanctuary for her family, especially her grandchildren.  Her grandson David is about to do something that will tear the family apart for good.  Can she do anything about this?  What allies can she draw upon?  Will her efforts to create a lasting family legacy be brought to naught?

In addition to the deeply-written characters (the house is almost a character in its own right), Elizabeth Goudge lays bare the realities of human nature and of redemption, of duty and its close relationship to love.

This is one of those books that inspire me to work harder in my home for the sake of my husband and our children to make our home the kind of sanctuary Damerosehay is to the Elliot clan.  I fail at this far more often than I like to admit, but confession is the first step of repentance.

However, if you want to read this (and I highly recommend that you do), look for a used copy.   The new edition I purchased is missing a couple of pages of text.  Since every page in this book is integral to the whole, I missed some important bits.  I'm grateful to the friend who typed out and emailed me the two pages that were missing.  I'm going to format them so I can stick them into my copy to have when I re-read it.  

Three times in the last month, I wrote to the publisher about this problem (and other, serious problems in another of their books that I'll post about soon), but haven't heard back.  This publisher is working to re-publish all of Elizabeth Goudge's books, which is a worthy endeavor, but until it's done well, I can't recommend them.


25 November 2008

Demographic Winter

Chilling.  Sobering.  Not surprising.

Opportunity for Christians.

God is sovereign.

I'm ordering this DVD today.


24 November 2008

Effort and Enjoyment

I wrote last time about some of the changes occurring because of our broken microwave oven. There's another that I find interesting.

Food tastes better. There seems to be a direct correlation between the effort to prepare a meal and the enjoyment of that meal. The time spent in anticipation brought about by the delayed gratification of the slower preparation and cooking process heighten the delight and relish we receive from the fruit of our labor.

Fast food, whether pulled from the microwave oven or the window of a drive-thru, doesn't provide nearly the satisfaction of a meal made from scratch with one's own hands, in company with family-members. The effort and the wait also increase appetite. And appetite is the most flavourful sauce.


22 November 2008

Wall-E and Microwave Ovens

We bought Wall-E this week and have already watched it twice (plus we saw it when it was in theaters). I love it more each time.

The folks at Pixar continue to amaze and inspire me. The themes and visuals they included in Wall-E are a case in point. One example: Eve, which means 'mother', resembles an egg, and is made to hold and care for life. These aren't things that a child would pick up on, but Pixar's pursuit of excellence includes them.

Watching this and talking with my kids has made me think a bit about the influence of work vs. the influence of easy living on sinful man.

Even though we all love our conveniences, I wonder how many of them are actually good for us? Case in point: our microwave oven blew out about a month ago. We're saving for other things that are more important, so we haven't replaced it yet. Thus, we're cooking 'on the hob', as they say in England, and in the oven and on the grill.

I'm surprised that I'm not feeling more rushed, even with the lack of time savings the microwave usually bestows; the extra steps involved and the extra time cooking currently involves aren't making us feel more hurried. If anything, life seems to be slowing down.

Our stove timer, unlike our microwave timer, beeps just twice before it turns off, so I can't go into another room without the very real risk of burning something because I don't hear the timer. So now, I stand at the stove, stirring as needed, wash a few dishes, empty the dishwasher, wipe a counter, or work on whatever sewing project is laid out on the peninsula, while possibly enjoying a glass of wine while I wait. Yet, how often have I stood impatiently watching the microwave, counting down the seconds until the food is hot? There really isn't time to do anything else while the microwave is working.

Food now isn't just something to pop into the microwave and then pop into our mouths before charging onto whatever else we're doing. We're eating breakfast and lunch together more than we used to and taking more time over it. With the microwave working, if someone came late, it was so easy to re-warm food that had grown cold. But now, 'get it while it's hot' means something.

I'm in no hurry to replace the microwave. The only thing I miss is microwave popcorn, but maybe that'll change when I get out our long-unused popcorn popper and we get the fun of seeing the corn burst into all its fluffiness through the clear dome of the popper and then enjoy something that took more effort to prepare than simply throwing a bag into the microwave and pressing a button.


20 November 2008

You Know You're a Film Buff When…

you spend the evening watching the subtitled 'making of' documentary included on the DVD of a foreign film.

A friend loaned us Vitus, a Swiss film about a musical prodigy and his struggle to fit in.  It's charming and delightful, even better the second time around (as all good films are).

Vitus is a little boy with a giant IQ and a gift for playing the piano.  As he grows, we watch his developing relationships with his mother, his father, his grandfather, and others as he struggles to find his way in a world that has no place for him.

Although European films have a reputation for darkness, Vitus is bright and colorful and the characters are well-written and well-portrayed.  The relationships among the main characters engage and drawn you in.  Vitus's grandfather reminds me a bit of my own.  His mother is torn between protecting her little boy and her growing ambitions for him.  And his father, while he wants to be there for his wife and son, is simply doing his best to get by.

Twelve-year old Vitus is played by pianist Teo Gheorghiu.  Swiss actor, Bruno Ganz, plays the grandfather.  You may remember him as Johann von Staupitz in Luther.  The other actors, while mostly unknown to American audiences, were drawn from the Swiss stage and do a great job.  Writer/director Fredi Murer has been making films since 1965, and I think I'd like to look into some of his others.  He's a real artist.

In addition to the beautiful cinematography and appealing characters, the script is a gem.  I can't comment on the dialog this time as I don't speak German, but the bits in English sounded right.

Vitus is also available from Netflix.


19 November 2008

Reading Plan

I listened to 'The Pastor and His Reading', a recent episode of the Sovereign Grace Ministries podcast featuring an interview with C.J. Mahaney and Jeff Purswell by Josh Harris.  It was highly recommended by my friend Debra, (she's been pushing me - in a nice, this is good for me sort of way - to listen to the whole series) and I finally got started this week.  Even though it sounds as if it would be specifically for pastors, there is much there that applies to any Christian and especially any Christian homeschooling mom.  (Debra said the whole series thus far is quite apropos.)

Along with Scripture, I've been reading C.J.'s Humility, True Greatness, Jerry Bridges' The Discipline of Grace, and Thomas Watson's The Godly Man's Picture - all personally challenging.  But C.J. mentioned in the interview that we should be spreading our reading around.  He said that, in addition to these types of books, we should be reading technical commentaries as we study a book of Scripture, biographies (which I read occasionally), and the Christian classics (I try to fit the classics into our study of Christendom every four  years, but I may need to change my approach as I don't usually get through them - I can't count how many times I've started  Confessions and never finished it!).

With that in mind, I'm going to adjust my reading diet.  I'll cut The Godly Man's Picture down to a few times each week (Debra and I are discussing our way through it over coffee or tea or lunch each week, but we're moving slowly enough that I can more than stay ahead with that schedule).  I'll probably gulp down Humility pretty quickly, with the intention to re-read more slowly it at some point in the future.  I'd like to add in David McCullough's biography of Truman or Marsden's biography of  Jonathan Edwards and either my abridged Calvin's Institutes or a commentary on Philippians, which our pastor is currently preaching through (I'll ask for a recommendation if our church bookstore doesn't carry one).

C.J. and Jeff recommended reading at least an hour a day.  I love this idea and already come close during my quiet time, but I'm inconsistent.  I'm going to work on that in my life and I'm beginning to insist on that for the kids.  I also want to add in a re-read of Shopping for Time, by Carolyn Mahaney and will work on a tighter routine this week which I'll institute next week when we start school again.


17 November 2008

Far From the Madding Crowd

I've always been tantalized by that title, but haven't read the book until now. I was warned that Thomas Hardy is a dark and dreary writer. I liked this and didn't find the descriptions of sin oppressive, maybe because the perspective was that sin is sin.  (However, this is my first Hardy, so this doesn't mean that I won't find him dark and dreary in the aggregate, once I've read more of his works.)

The story starts with Gabriel Oak (aptly named on more than one level). He meets Bathsheba Everdene and is never the same.

Hardy's understanding of unintended consequences, sowing and reaping, sin, guilt, the maturity that comes after walking through pain, and the contrast between selfish passion and unselfish love make for a satisfying and thoughtful story.

While the main characters were well-drawn (even mediocre writers do this), I love that he took the time and effort to develop the secondary characters as well. In my mind, that's one mark of a good writer (of books, plays, and films). Every character leaps off the page as a unique person with a unique voice.

A few quotes:
[…] observed a brisk young man--Mark Clark by name, a genial and pleasant gentleman, whom to meet anywhere in your travels was to know, to know was to drink with, and to drink with was, unfortunately, to pay for.
They spoke very little of their mutual feelings; pretty phrases and warm expressions being probably unnecessary between such tried friends. Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other's character, and not the best until further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good fellowship--camaraderie--usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labors, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death--that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.

15 November 2008

Reading Today

Why am I reading 7 Steps to a Pain-Free Life: How to Rapidly Relieve Back and Neck Pain today? Because I woke up with the same headache I went to bed with, caused by my bad posture while crocheting yesterday during our Gileskirk discussion group. (Our printer isn't working and while I can lead a discussion with George's outline, even if I haven't listened to the lecture, I can't lead one without an outline. And I often jump ahead of the discussion when someone else leads it. If I have handwork, it's easier to keep my mouth shut unless I have something really important to say.) These headaches often last for several days and, when they don't knock me out completely, they do affect what I'm able to do while they last.

I really didn't want to suffer for so long, so I grabbed the book and read the part about neck exercises through the fog of pain. Then I did the first two exercises, followed by a couple others.

The headache is gone. As I worked through the instructions in the book, I could feel my spine re-aligning itself. The muscles relaxed and the pain is absolutely gone. I don't even have the halo I usually get as I recover. As proof, I'm able to post this (I usually can't get on the computer when I have a headache.)

This is a wonderful book. Not necessarily sit on the edge of your seat reading (on the other hand, sitting on the edge of your seat would probably be better for your posture), but one of the few self-help books that follows through on its promises. I highly recommend it.


10 November 2008

Noëlle on DVD!

Noëlle, a film that saw limited theatrical release last December will be available on DVD tomorrow, November 11th.

It's the story of Father Jonathan Keene, a Catholic priest whose job is to shut down unprofitable churches. He arrives at a small town in Maine near Christmas and gets much more than he bargained for in the quirky inhabitants of the town, including the current parish priest, who is an old friend, and the town librarian.

The script is well-structured, the characters have depth and sparkle with personality, the thematic elements and visuals are subtly woven into the story, the sub-text is powerful, and the humour delightful!  The cinematography makes me miss the New England winters of my childhood (alright! I miss the first snow!).  It's a joyful story that deals with sin, guilt, forgiveness, and redemption, yet never wallows in sentimentality or sappiness.

Noëlle was written by, produced by, directed by, and stars a Christian homeschooling family. They did a truly great job!

Noëlle is rated PG, as it deals with some grown-up themes and there is one scene with implied language (if you can read lips - although, it's not at all gratuitous) and another with one additional word you may not want your little ones imitating. For more information and to view the trailer, please visit the website.

We'll be purchasing this as soon as we can and plan to make it a regular part of our Christmas seasons, along with It's a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, and Miracle on 34th Street.

09 November 2008

Nicholas Nickleby

I finished Nicholas Nickleby. I'm so glad Jenny told me to read it more as a fairy tale than as realistic fiction or I don't think I would have gotten through.

I love Dickens' way with words! Here are just a couple of quotes:
He was a tall man of middle-age with goggle eyes whereof one was a fixture, a rubicund nose, a cadaverous face, and a suit of clothes (if the term be allowable when they suited him not at all) much the worse for wear, very much too small, and placed upon such a short allowance of buttons that it was quite marvelous how he contrived to keep them on.
[L]et it be remembered that most men live in a world of their own, and that in that limited circle alone are they ambitious for distinction and applause. … Thus, cases of injustice, and oppression, and tyranny, and the most extravagant bigotry, are in constant occurrence among us every day. It is the custom to trumpet forth much wonder and astonishment at the chief actors therein setting at defiance so completely the opinion of the world; but there is no greater fallacy; it is precisely because they do consult the opinion of their own little world that such things take place at all, and strike the great world dumb with amazement.
Dickens is fun to read (for the most part), but I don't think I could stand a steady diet of him.  I wonder what it says about his view of the world that no one is redeemed?  The main characters are all purity or all evil.  The secondary characters are usually strange looking but have hearts of gold.


04 November 2008

Psalm 121

I lift my eyes up to the mountains,
Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,
Maker of heaven, Creator of the earth.

He will not let your foot slip,
He who watches over you will not slumber,
Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you,
He is the shade at your right hand,
The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm.
He will watch over your life,
The Lord will watch over your coming and going,
Both now and forevermore.
God have mercy on us.