Thursday, May 28, 2015

Homeschool Diaries Character Interview--Audrey Van Alstyne

I'm off gallivanting tomorrow, so Friday's post goes up early! :) Happy reading, folks! 


(New to Homeschool Diaries? It's my current work-in-progress, and you can check out more about it here.)

I was absolutely shocked by Audrey's winning margin in the character interview poll. It's kind of ironic, actually. Up until today I considered doing a 180 switch for her personality, but when a friend mentioned that she liked Audrey, I got to thinking and saw potential for plotting that I had never considered before. So here she stays.

Meet Audrey Van Alstyne--the youngest girl in the Van Alstyne family--a lass with nut-brown hair that reaches past her shoulders, brown eyes, and a starry smile whenever she's pleased with something.

How old are you?
16


Who is your best friend?
I talk to Brielle about a lot of sister things, but outside the family it's Megan. She has blonde hair, blue eyes and glasses. She likes books and  wants to write stories. She also likes skiing, and her family travels a lot. 


What is your favorite book? (or genre of books)
Faerie Queene, Lady of the Lake, Cowper, Stevenson's poems, Tolkien's poems, anything poetry. It is beautiful. I am sad people don't love it more. 

Favorite color?
My favorite color is blue. Blue of ocean, blue of sky--icy blue, smoky blue, turquoise or sapphire.

What kinds of things get on your nerves? 
Unmade beds. Dirty hands touching food. Crooked tablecloths. The dirty carpet in the entry way. (It is the trial of my existence.) Smudged windows. Schoolbooks out of order on the shelf. 


What is your biggest secret?
I am writing a poem about as long as Spenser's, and I want it to be really, really good, but I don't want to show anyone yet. It is hidden on my computer in a password-protected document. 


What is your comfort food?
A mug of soup, any kind, but especially potato bacon. And hot. Piping hot. I love soup.

What is your biggest accomplishment?
(She won't answer, so I'll step in for her.) Audrey has baked 10 dozen cookies for the church bake sale, won honorable mention at the fair, and put a month of meals in the freezer, which she vowed she'd never do again. She also designs all the birthday cards for the family and writes the messages inside. She has written 200 pages in her epic poem.


Do you have any habits, annoying or otherwise?
I always tuck my shirts in, and keep my pencils in a cracked mug painted with three kittens in a basket. I organize my books by alphabetical order. All my schoolwork is clearly labelled. I sing while I work, which I suppose can sometimes be distracting/annoying. I also give everyone a napkin at dinner, which some consider unnecessary and insulting. But I like nice table manners. 

 What do your other characters have to say about them?
"Quiet." "Has a secret little notebook." "Good cook." "Helpful in the kitchen." 

Favorite season of the year?
Fall. It's crisp and colorful and very poetic--an old year dying, making room for a new year. It makes me think of foxes and fires and donuts and hot cider with cinnamon sticks. 



How do you show love?
I make cookies and work around the kitchen; try to help Mama with meals and picking up. Acts of service is my love language. 

 If you crashed on an island with a bunch of other people, how would you help the group survive?
I would cook for them, and comfort people who were afraid, and be a hard worker with all the everyday responsibilities. I wouldn't know how to find things to cook, but once someone had found it, I would mix it up for them.

Favorite kind of weather?
Rain. A grey, steady, heavy rain where I'm inside and the house feels like a cocoon. Or snow is just as well. The perfect weather for curling up with a book and a mug of tea. 


 If someone walked up to you and told you that you were the child of the prophecy, would you believe them?
I think at first I would be quite disbelieving, but upon second thought I might put some credit to the idea and be secretly excited about it.

Any strange hobbies?
I collect Dutch china figures--the blue and white ones. But that's not very strange, is it? I keep them all on the bookshelf that I share with Brielle. 

Do you have a sweet tooth? 
Yes! I like desserts, especially chocolate, and breakfast breads. Blueberry muffins are scrumptious. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Richard the Third, by Paul Murray Kendall (Part Two)

Housekeeping Note: If you're interested in voting in the Homeschool Diaries poll, today's the last day to choose which character you want to meet! Tomorrow morning the poll will be taken down. :) 

Last Tuesday I blogged about one of the biggest historical mysteries still being discussed today: Richard III, and the princes in the tower. Was he a grasping, ambitious brute, or a sensitive and caring king? Did he murder the princes in the tower, or was he framed by traitorous colleagues?

You could live a happy and fulfilled life without studying Richard, but in light of the splash it's made in current events, and the rich character study of Richard's life, as well as the enlightenment it brings to history itself, it's worth gaining at least a cursory acquaintance.

Last week we looked at Richard and certain aspects of his character. This week I want to conclude by looking at the time in which Richard lived and the factors that shaped his character. If you need to catch up, click here.

The Book 
Richard the Third makes the best of scholars hold their heads in frustration. For many years he was portrayed as a dyed-in-the-wool villain: a canting monster embellished by More and Virgil's English histories, and Shakespeare's more familiar work, Richard the Third. After all, what's to know about him? He's a usurper of the English throne, who took over after his brother's death, murdered his young nephews by smothering, and was later conquered by Henry VII.

So biographies went, and so we knew Richard, until a slow and steady movement by dedicated historians tore apart Tudor invention to get at the real story.Kendall's book Richard the Third defined this new movement and gave new credibility to those who refused to accept the monster at face value. Until then, a lot of positive arguments for Richard were wishful thinking, riddled with factual errors and logical fallacies. Kendall provided a biography both more objective and less Tudorish.

It's a good time to read this book, not only for its past value, but for the fact that over the last couple of years, it's been headline news in England. Kendall treats the subject with careful scholarship, drawing a more complicated, sympathetic, and realistic portrait of a king who lived with one difficult decision after another.

It's an inspiring read.
My Thoughts
Reading Paul Murray Kendall's Warwick the Kingmaker was brilliant set-up for the life and times of Richard III. History is like the Bible--best read in context. You'll get a lot out of Richard just reading Richard the Third. Precede it with Warwick the Kingmaker, and you'll get the full impetus of how the generation before him shaped the kingdom that Richard inherited.

The conflict between York and Lancaster was staggering, and both had very legitimate claims to the throne. What made it even worse was all the illegitimate offspring who wanted a piece of the puzzle. Henry VII, the usurper who took over from Richard III, was descended from a liaison between Katherine, wife of Henry V, and a Welshman who was most definitely not her husband. Political ambition and sexual sin fouled each side, and York and Lancaster not only had to deal with each other, but with deep dissension from within their own parties. No wonder England was in trouble.

Not only are the men fascinating, but the wives of the various monarchs are forces to be reckoned with. Their fathers and brothers and husbands had rights, and they strained every influence in their power to help secure them. If you want proof that women had power even in the 1600s, just look at the time of Richard. Women were landowners and rulers in their own right, influencing home and foreign policy with sometimes disastrous consequences. Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, and Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV, shaped their husband's personalities and kept the various nobility on their toes. Elizabeth Woodville, in her attempts to cement her Woodville relations in positions of power, alienated Richard III from his brother's court for years. When his brother died, and Edward V was due to take the throne, Richard's duty to declare Edward V illegitimate led to an even greater rift.

One huge part of Richard's culture, which had a profound effect on who was loyal to York and who to Lancaster, was the bestowing of lands and titles. Now we think of a man owning land, and it's his until he chooses to sell it. In Richard's day, if land was granted by the king, it could be retracted by the king. Sometimes the king took it because you weren't behaving well; sometimes because someone else wasn't behaving well and needed to be soothed; sometimes because after investigation, another person had better inheritance rights. Sometimes you were given land because your father didn't behave well, and the king wanted to sweet talk your loyalties. Sometimes your land was taken away for your father's sins. No wonder loyalties switched back and forth so often.

The commoners of that time had a kind of loyalty to king, but much more loyalty to the local landowner. Whichever lord or duke they lived under, they served in battle, switching sides as often as he did. They didn't always care which king they were fighting for. As long as their rights and livelihood were secure, and injustice wasn't too rife, what did it matter whether a French Henry or an English Richard ruled over them? Obviously I'm doing some huge generalization here, but that's one thing I picked up from the time period. When Richard came down to the bitter end at Bosworth Field, the indifference of the commoners and their obedience to the lesser lords proved part, at least, of his death sentence.

There's not time to go into England's relations with France, or the colorful characters that populated Richard's court--Lord Hastings, Lord Stanley, the Duke of Buckingham, and others--but suffice it to say, you're in for a huge treat of personalities, ambition, diplomacy and compromise. Talk about melodramatic. There was no telling whether your friend would be your friend from one day to the next, or whether you would have to give orders to execute them. Family Christmases were a game of hidden daggers. The various estates scattered over England often sheltered resentful lords who were nursing their wounds in private until they could right their wrongs. Nobles fled to France after failed revolts, and then returned again. Welshmen staked their claims and betrayed them without a second thought. If you don't know much of the history going in, like I didn't, then it's an ample source both of education, and of entertainment.

When you read Richard the Third, it is indispensable to read the Appendices as well as the main work. Appendix I deals with the controversy of the Princes in the Tower, and who may have killed them. Appendix II, though more for the dedicated reader, is a must-have overview of the historical accounts contemporary with Richard's life. If you truly want to understand the controversy, then it's helpful to know know which writers were French, which were English, which wrote during Richard's time, and which wrote during the time of his usurper, Henry VII. All these factors influence the reliability of the reports. Believe it or not, some of the "facts" which ended up in your history books are actually quite debatable.

Everything is a kaleidoscope of meaning when it comes to history. A lot of Richard's life was pieced together from receipts and acts of Parliament, detailing where he was and when. A lot of his motives can be logically surmised from the friendships influencing his line of thought. A lot of the choices he made were also affected by past treaties with France, the mistakes and victories of mentors and relatives, and the foreign relations with Burgundy, France, and Spain.

When understanding any person, it always helps to understand the people and places around them. This is vital with Richard, and enabled Kendall to recreate a wonderful and engaging portrait of his life and reign. I highly recommend Paul Murray Kendall's Richard the Third. It is well worth your time.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Door in the Wall, by Marguerite de Angeli

It's not often I review a children's book on the blog. But The Door in the Wall, by Marguerite de Angeli, is too good to miss. Since it's a short book, it won't be a long review, but if you have kids in the age of--(Come to think of it, I have no idea how to gauge books for kids. But this one I'm thinking 6-10.)

It's a medieval story with a lot of charm.

The Book
Robin lives in daily expectation of becoming a page in the household of Peter de Lindsay. Before he's installed as a page, his father is called off to the Scottish wars. Then his mother is summoned to attend the queen, and Robin himself falls ill.

At least it isn't the plague that's rife in the streets, but when he wakes up, his legs are crippled and his dreams of being a knight are over. Abandoned by the servants, Robin is taken in and cared for by a group of monks until word can reach his father. When Robin finally receives a letter, he travels to the castle where Peter lives.

The castle is under siege, and Robin has the skills he needs to save them. All he has to do is find the 'door in the wall' that will save the day.

My Thoughts 
While I had absolutely no trouble with it, some people on Amazon said they had difficulty with the language style the author used. That may affect the age you decide to give it to your kids, but the story itself is still wonderful.

A lot of children's literature is ham-handed in its attempt to teach character. This book is subtle and natural and sweet. Robin is a regular child, prone to sadness, impatience, eagerness, and bluntness by turn. Apologies aren't always on the top of his list. But the story shows a natural arc of him learning perseverance, courage, and kindness, without explicitly pointing it out. He overcomes his crippled legs by learning what he can do on a pair of crutches--swimming, making music, and carving. He also learns how his abilities can help other people, even though he can't be the knight he wants to be.

I also appreciated his love for his parents--it was sincere and pure. While they were absent for a lot of the story, Robin received help and care from other adult mentors as he struggled through difficulties. Even so, he does get a shining, heroic moment by himself, which children like to see. :)

It is deftly written, and my edition has beautiful black and white illustrations by the author herself, which made it a real treat. If you're looking for a children's book for someone you know, this might be worth a try.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Richard the Third, by Paul Murray Kendall (Part One)

If you've been following this blog or my Twitter feed for any length of time, you may have seen scattered mentions of Paul Murray Kendall's Richard the Third. I've been interested in Richard III ever since reading Josephine Tey's fascinating mystery, The Daughter of Time, in which a modern-day detective tries to discover whether or not Richard murdered the Princes in the Tower. That novel offered a good introduction, but wanting to read something more scholarly, and inspired by a dedicated Richardian friend of mine, I moved on to Kendall's doorstopper biography.

The biography is so chunky and deep that one post won't do it justice. This Tuesday and next I plan to cover this book, starting with a post looking at Richard the man, and next time covering the times in which he lived.

Even if you're totally oblivious to the War of the Roses, like I was, you'll still enjoy it. So come learn some fresh and inspiring details about English history.

The Book 
Richard the Third makes the best of scholars hold their heads in frustration. For many years he was portrayed as a dyed-in-the-wool villain: a canting monster embellished by More and Virgil's English histories, and Shakespeare's more familiar work, Richard the Third. After all, what's to know about him? He's a usurper of the English throne, who took over after his brother's death, murdered his young nephews by smothering, and was later conquered by Henry VII.

So biographies went, and so we knew Richard, until a slow and steady movement by dedicated historians tore apart Tudor invention to get at the real story. The Tudor accounts, they found, were quite biased. After all, Richard was of the line of the Plantagenets, and the Tudors didn't want the English people's loyalties to swing back to the Plantagenet heir. Simple enough: make the last king so abhorrent that they would be more than glad of their new usurper.

But lies aren't simple.

Kendall's book defined this new movement and gave new credibility to those who refused to accept the monster at face value. Until then, a lot of positive arguments for Richard were wishful thinking, riddled with factual errors and logical fallacies. Kendall provided a biography both more objective, and less Tudorish.

It's a good time to read this book, not only for its past value, but for the fact that over the last couple of years, it's been headline news in England. Kendall treats the subject with careful scholarship, drawing a more complicated, sympathetic, and realistic portrait of a king who lived with one difficult decision after another.

It's an inspiring read.

My Thoughts 
Richard the man is one of the coolest people to study in all of history. He was born sickly, and grew up a thoughtful, physically slight youth during a time when the throne swung like a wild pendulum between Henry VI and his father. His father died in the great struggle between Lancaster and York. His brother Edmund did as well. Richard fastened his love and pride on his charismatic older brother, Edward IV, and used all his strength and skill to promote his brother's cause. When Edward came to the throne, Richard received even heavier burdens of responsibility. He was trustworthy. He was obedient. Who wouldn't want a younger brother like that?

But then things went wrong. Richard married in one of the sweetest love stories I've ever read, and lived in northern England, winning the hearts of the men of York. Edward made a pact with France, sinking deeper into the clutches of his secret marriage and his new in-laws, the Woodvilles. Then Edward died, and Richard has nothing to comfort himself with, for the brave young man he loved ended life as an over-indulged, harried monarch. And Richard, as usual, was left to clean things up.

That's the history that shaped the monarch: it's a heartwrenching story of a man who was probably best suited to be support, trying to bear huge burdens without the support he himself had given to others. He used his kingdom to promote justice, but he had none of the comfortable compromise that other men used to keep the English nation afloat. He wanted to run the nation virtuously (whether or not he was perfectly virtuous himself) and the people at large weren't interested.

His biggest fault seems not to be uncontrolled ambition, but a conscience that was strong enough to torment him for wrongdoing, and not strong enough to keep him from committing it. He was a wise ruler among the men of York, but he didn't have the experience to deal with the political posturings in the court or abroad. He trusted men to be virtuous, and so they betrayed him. He allowed men to thrust him into decisions 'for ultimate good' that he would later deeply regret. He needed a Richard himself, but he could not be both Richard and king, and his divided heart destroyed itself.

Kendall's work, lengthy, meticulous, and engagingly written, has occupied much of my thoughts and reading time for the past few weeks. It's worth studying on a variety of levels. There is, of course, the basic value of a more objective history of the 1470s. But there's much more than that: a study of men's passions and pursuits, of what people are willing to do for duty and ambition, and of how every single man of that time had a profound impact on English history. If you want to know that your life choices have huge ripple effects, then study Richard. If you want to see how loyalty or betrayal can make or break a nation, then study Richard. If you want to see how virtuous souls can struggle so violently with sin, then study Richard.

By the end of the book, I understood how Richard could desire the highest good for himself and others, and yet perhaps kill the princes at the same time. I don't know if he did; Kendall thought there were other viable possibilities, including the Duke of Buckingham. But I think Richard could easily have committed one wrong in his deep desire to rectify another. If that's the portrait Kendall intended to convey, then I got it and deeply sympathize with it.
His book later inspired the lady who organized the movement to look for Richard's skeleton under a car park in England. I remember when they found Richard's skeleton. I followed his funeral very recently. It is so, so cool to be alive at this time in history--because we get to see the end of the story. (Though more research on several extant skeletons would be a fantastic postscript).

Richard is a dizzying portrait of duty, justice, character, weakness--and by the time you finish Kendall's biography, you'll be out of words. But all you'll have to do is say "Richard the Third", and somehow his name itself encapsulates everything you feel and can't describe.

Come back next Tuesday for a bird's-eye view of the culture of the War of the Roses: how Kendall's biography describes it, and how it shaped the English nation.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Homeschool Diaries May Snippets


Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles! Every month we do a snippets post where I share selections from a novel I'm currently writing. This month, I'd like to introduce you to a new story I'm working on. It is called Homeschool Diaries, and it's a series of journal entries written by a simple-hearted novice angel, who's trying to keep track of the sins and virtues of one homeschool family:

An angel is given a unique assignment--to chronicle the lives of five homeschoolers and give advice to their guardian angels on the best way to guide and protect them. But he's never met a family like this before.

The angel's name is Anion. He is close friends with another guardian angel named Calenon, and the two of them manage to keep their respective jobs running smoothly.

This story is written in satire format as Anion struggles to reconcile his preconceptions of homeschoolers (a perfect and saintly bunch) with who they really are (normal and varied people). Any sarcasm or light mockery about fashion, worship styles, music, or lifestyle choices is not intended to be condemnatory or judgmental. It is simply meant to be a humorous, and hopefully penetrating, look at how Christians differently live out their understanding of the Word of God. 

I hope you enjoy the snippets!


"What's wrong with this Van Alstyne family?" I asked Calenon, as we walked back along the river to the twelve fruit trees.
"You don't know much about homeschoolers, do you?" Calenon shook his head. "You know Rinion?"
"Yeah, what went wrong with him?"
"He stuck with a homeschool boy from birth to age sixteen before he suffered a nervous breakdown. Had to be transferred to an Anglican vicar, and he's still not over it. That's when Gabriel implemented the two-angels-per-person policy."
~
The Van Alstynes don't know it, but their church is famous in heaven because of the Parkers. The Parkers are the closest thing to causing riots in heaven that we've ever gotten since Job. All the guardians want to be assigned to them, and Michael could only keep peace by establishing annual rotations so they could all experience The Perfect Family.
~
After five minutes watching Brielle on screen, I caught an inkling of the reason for Rinion's nervous breakdown. She wears her blonde hair in very pretty candy cane curls, but every time she gets upset she threatens to go out and get a pixie cut. Homeschoolers do not wear pixie cuts.
~
Along with a liking for ruffled scarves and sweaters that bear a startling resemblance to manta rays, she seems to have an uncanny ability to fix on her parents' weak spots and push them like a baby with a light-up toy.
~
They all dragged out of bed after guzzling soda and popcorn to the wee hours to see the New Year in. None of them looked like very promising converts. Mustn't be too harsh that early in the day, though.
~
Well, that was enough for Jill, and she finished off the party spirit with a History of Family Misdemeanors that stretched back to January 1st the year Brielle was born. She asked why they all couldn't be intelligent Christians like everybody else instead of lame-headed geese. Even I felt like a goose when she finished.
~
Van Alstynes had devotions all together tonight. Thought I would mention it, as they could use a little extra credit right now.
~
A silver van pulled into the church drive just behind the Van Alstynes, and I'll be switched if the whole family didn't straighten up and stretch their smiles a little wider and walk a little quicker to the front door. Josh stayed behind while the Parkers all got out of their van, and held the door for them. He smiled like a newborn angel--not that we have any of those up here, of course not--and said good morning.
~
All the Van Alstynes are leaving on a weekend trip to see David's parents; they weren't able to get to Indiana for Christmas, so they promised to come in January. Angels standing by at 10:30 for departure time, as we heard David say that's when he wanted to leave, but it wasn't until 11:20 that we were actually needed.
~
Brielle put in her ear-buds and listened to her own music. I wanted to know what was in them, so I piped in to hear it myself.
Josh was right. Romantic with a side of twang. Yuck.
~
March 23, 2014
This might be gossip. Not sure. But there's a new guy at church, and he was looking at Brielle during the song service instead of pretending not to know the words and looking at the screen.

Calenon looked over my shoulder just now. He said it's gossip.
~
She spends a lot of time on one of those backwards, slow little devices the humans call computers. If only they could see what we have up here, they would want the rapture to come sooner. Second rapture, I mean--or maybe the only rapture, depending on who you talk to. Calenon has rather strange opinions on the rapture--thinks that most of the angels' trumpets and seals and things have already occurred. I must have missed them.
~
Audrey made cookies today. I could smell them, the cinnamon and sweetness as the little balls of dough made a soft plop onto the pans. I think I saw raisins in them. Or maybe they were baking chips. Audrey is famous for her cookies; she's made them for Christmas cookie exchanges and countless shut-ins ever since she was old enough to stand on a chair and reach the mixer. At least, that's what I heard Mrs. Van Alstyne say on the phone this morning to a friend. I think she was trying to get spirituality points there. But I didn't listen properly; I was too busy watching Audrey, her dark brows scrunched down, and a contented glow in her eyes as she concentrated on the task. She pulled them out of the oven a few minutes later; they were lightly browned around the edges, with that lovely little crispy bit just to give it a crunch, and a very soft, very chewy center, just the way a cookie should be.
Hirnaeranin came by and asked me what heavenly benefit it would be for the guardians to know about Audrey's baking skills. I don't know. Surely something that smelled that good would be worth writing about. I wish I could taste them.
Besides. Hours later when she was gone, her brother came by and took one, and somehow I think it helped with his math lesson. He looked a little happier after that.  

And giving happiness is something very worth remembering. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Liebster Award



1. Link back to the blogger who nominated you.
2. Answer the 11 new questions.
3. Nominate other bloggers (however many or few as you'd like).
4. Create 11 new questions for the bloggers you nominated.
5. Notify the new nominees of their award.

My dear friend Joy C. nominated me for the Liebster award over at Fullness of Joy. I love these questions, and can't wait to dig in! 

1. What is the driving passion of your life?
To love God and to love the people he brings across my path. All out, authentic, Jesus love that speaks truth and isn't afraid to deal with the good and the bad that those around me struggle with. My driving passion is to be a Safe Place. There are few of those in the world, and I want to be a person that people can come to to rest a while and talk things out and reconnect with Jesus.  
2. What is your favourite subject of study?
People and personalities. Seriously, I could think and talk about that all day. I love finding out what people like, what makes them feel secure, what lights up their eyes, and how their birth order, background, and life experiences affect their behavior. I think that's why I got into writing. Studying how lots of different personalities live out the same principles in the Christian life is a never ending source of interest. 
3. When you're having an "off-day", what are some of the things that help you snap out of it, or just help you relax and take the rest of the day in your stride? 
Hmm. I do have off days, believe it or not. I still try to be productive--but if I feel under the weather, than I am gentler with myself. Music helps a great deal. Pulling up a book on my Kindle app. But if it is blog day, then I don't put it off--the blog gets written. I simply allow it to take longer than it normally would. I am an OCD listmaker and I do my dead-level best to get the key things crossed off, so the off days are still somewhat productive. 
4. If someone made a movie of your life, what actor/actress would you cast to play you?
I once heard someone say Emily Blunt from The Young Victoria. It made my month. Not only have I never been compared to a movie actress before, but I very much relate to Emily's combination of aristocratic dignity, holding people at arms' length, with moments of tearful vulnerability and teasing laughter. So I'll go with that. 
5. If you could go back in time and meet any authors of the past, who would your top 4 be?
Charles Dickens. I'd ask him one question--who killed Edwin Drood? Thomas More. I'd ask him one question--how much did Henry VII bribe him to make up about Richard III? Tolkien. I'd ask him lots of questions, including whatever happened to the Entwives. And Corrie Ten Boom. I want to give her a hug and tell her just how much her books helped one worried 14-year-old girl find rest in Jesus. 
6. What is the biggest lesson you have learned during the past year?
That God loves his people. That he is holy. That there are tons of people in the Church body willing to reach out and show loving care. That God is enough. Enough. Do you know how much joy and freedom and security there is in that thought? That intimate fellowship with him is the most spiritual, thirst-quenching thing. Coming to Jesus for the water of life. This last six months has been a floodgate of--Enough. God. Fellowship. In 2014 I went through some painful waiting seasons--and now the harvest is coming up, and it is sweet. Pray that I will continue to be faithful to Jesus, and rely solely on him. 
7. Do you have any exciting adventures in your life that bring back special, fond memories?
I always love the fact that our parents chose to invest their resources in taking us on adventures.
We lived quite simply in a lot of ways, and have a lot richer memory bank for it. We went to conferences and saw people, took vacations every year, and went to concerts and plays. It got embarrassing to admit how many people we had met, but kind of fun at the same time. Check out the post on bookmarks for some of them. Travelling to Maine, Vancouver, and Florida, meeting the Von Trapps, going to see Celtic Thunder, and Saturdays hanging out with very dear friends are some of my favorites. 
8. What is your favourite non-fiction book? Why do you like it?
Oh my. I really don't know. I love a lot of nonfiction and am deeply impacted by it, but unlike fiction, there are few books that I read over again in nonfiction. A Place of Quiet Rest, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, about God's heart for our daily devotion time is incredible. So is One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. The effects of gratefulness and seeking God's face have lasted long after I finished reading them. 
9. Do you play an instrument (may include voice)?
I used to play harp, but it has been so long I no longer consider it a current instrument. I could pick up a lot of the songs I've learned with a couple of practice sessions, though. For now, my only instrument is the fact that I sing a lot. I am a copycat singer--I do my best to imitate the feel of the artist singing my favorite versions, whether it's contemporary, contemplative, Broadway, or jazzy. I hum while I'm doing dishes, driving, talking with friends, playing Dutch Blitz, and vacuuming. I always have someone singing in my headphones while I'm writing. But I have never taken voice lessons. 
10. Have you lived all your life in one country? If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you wish to live? 
Yes. Practically in the same house. I actually like where I live. We have no fearsome beasties or terrible weather conditions, even if the winters get really cold. And we're close to lakes and have the conveniences of city life, so I am quite content. 
11. What is something that makes you cry (a book, song, movie, etc) and why?
I cry a lot more than I used to. My heart is softer and more hungry, and God is more real. Love makes me cry easily--God showing how great his love is, or someone else showing love. Constant heart hunger makes me cry if unrelieved--but it generally takes a few days to bring me to the point of tears. As for movies, I have cried at The Young Victoria, October Baby (I think) Bleak House (*soft wail*) and lots of others. Books I cry quite often. I can't remember if I cried over Warwick the Kingmaker. I cried over LOTR (who doesn't?) I cried over One Thousand Gifts. I used to pride myself on the fact that I never cried, like Jane Stuart. Then I realized life was suffering for it and embraced the authenticity of tears. 

12. What is one blog/blogger that inspires you to write? Please share why and provide a link!
I have lots of friends on the blogosphere, but I find most of my inspiration through conversations, emails, and texting with friends. That's where I develop my early ideas, talking them out with people and getting different perspectives. Then they are ready to face the world in a formal blog post. Knowing a lot of my readers keeps me motivated to post twice a week--it feels like having a chat with you all. :) 
13. Why did you start blogging and what is the goal of your blog?
I finished highschool and wanted to start a blog that incorporated my love for books with discipling readers into a thinking mindset. It's been a journey of thinking, growing, learning and reading for the last three years. Lord-willing it will last for years to come! 
14. What are some of your favourite hobbies (if any) besides blogging and writing?
Good question! That is my main activity, but when not writing or blogging, I learn Gaelic and French, design novel scrapbooks, make donuts now and then, and watch period drama movies. I also enjoy organizing and jewelry-making. And the more dangle earrings, the better! :) 

Nominees: 
Kaleigh  at Facing the Waves 
Victoria at A Garden of Dreams 
Shantelle at A Writer's Heart 


1. What is the driving passion of your life?
2. Do you have a daily devotion plan or prayer time, and if so, what does it look like? 
3. What is your favorite friendship in literature? 
4. Are there one or two themes close to your heart that wind through your favorite books? 
5. What is your favorite time period in history, and why? 
6. Is there one person in real life who has had a huge, (positive) impact on your spiritual journey, and if so, can you tell us a little bit about them? 
7. What are your international family roots? Are they important to you? 
8. Who are two of your favorite music artists? 
9. Do you have a morning routine to get your day started? What does it look like? (Alternate: what's your favorite way to wind down for the night?) 
10. Why did you start blogging and what is the goal of your blog?
11. If you can pick one word that you want to be your motto on social media, what would it be? 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Best Of: Literary Mothers

Housekeeping note: In looking over the last few weeks, I must apologize for the lack of book reviews here. I've been reading Richard the Third, which is a hefty book, and what little reading time I have has been sorely cut out by a full-house carpet replacement, work, and speaking engagements. I hope to resume book reviews in a couple of weeks, and in the meantime will do my best to provide thoughtful, book-related posts to carry us through the gap. Thank-you! 


 In celebration of Mother's Day (coming this Sunday, hint hint) we have the best literary mothers featured on the blog! As memorable as Mrs. Bennet and Hyacinth are, they aren't exactly the kind of inspiration we're looking for. So here are my favorite mothers and mother-figures in literature.

1. Kathryn Carter (Cloak of the Light)--In Chuck Black's Cloak of the Light, she's one of the involved moms in literature. Widowed after her husband was killed in combat, she pours a lot of time into caring for Drew after he goes blind.
2. Mrs. Duncan (Freckles)--The sweetest scene in Freckles is when he asks her if kisses wash off, and she tells him of course they don't. They strike down deep into your heart and stay there forever. She gave him the mother's love that his hungry heart needed, and always had a timely word ready.
3. Janet (Sir Gibbie/The Baronet's Song)--Donal's real mother, and Gibbie's adopted mother, Janet showed a steadfast hope in the Lord and a loving care for the hungry, abused orphan who came to her doorstep. Her bannocks and milk sounded delicious.
4. Mara (The Hidden Hand)--At our house we eye Mara's son with a wary eye (compared to strong and carefree Herbert, Travis is rather high-strung and weak-willed) but Mara, steadfast, heartbroken wife of a man who abandoned her, is a sweet woman that you just want to take under your wing and shelter.
5. Mother (Laddie) --I love her. Her speech to Mr. Pryor about how they raised their boys and girls, her brave, concealed heartbreak when Laddie proposed to the Princess, and her willingness to let Little Sister try homeschooling when the one room schoolhouse just didn't work. Mother didn't know how to read when she got married, and when the children thought their father drilled them in school subjects for their benefit, they never knew it was so he could give an education to his wife, who worked side-by-side with him heart and soul.
6. Marmee (Little Women)--No list would be complete without Marmee. She had loving advice, a heart for the poor, and managed to raise four beautiful and free-spirited daughters.
7. Jo March (Little Men, Jo's Boys)--The wildest of the lot growing up, Jo manages to have the most children, and raises a happy bunch of boys and girls in Little Men. I think her own wild heart (tamed over time) gave her the compassion for Dan that he desperately needed.
8. Caroline Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie)-- She moved all over with Pa Ingalls, lost her baby son, and her oldest daughter went blind, but she had a resilient spirit. The Caroline series was always my favorite of the Little House additions, because it gave her life from early childhood until marriage. She always had a wise saying on her tongue and was a hard worker.
9. Kanga (Winnie the Pooh)--Is so.cute. We love her around here. Her baths--and soap--and strengthening medicine. And whenever she says "We'll see, dear," to Roo, we all burst out laughing, because "We're always seeing, and nothing ever happens."
10. Robin Stuart (Jane of Lantern Hill)--Robin was not a good wife, and in some instances her weaknesses made her a less-than-perfect mother. But she did love Jane, and loved her own mother, and her little secret gestures to Jane were sweet.
11. Marfa Strogoff (Michael Strogoff)--One of the toughest, most stalwart women I've read about. Willing to endure shame and torture so that her son would not be revealed to his enemies. She was also willing to lay her very life on the line to prove her trust in him, if that's what it took.
12. Kate Comstock (A Girl of the Limberlost)--She's a bitter, shriveled up woman when the book
starts, but softens out into a spunky, discerning, practical person. I like her quite well, and she's one of those mothers that has a happy ending.
13. Maria Von Trapp (Story of the Trapp Family Singers)--not only did she become step-mother to a lot of children, she crossed the Atlantic while pregnant, conducted a music tour, and kept her immigrant family alive in America through a series of hilarious escapades.
14. Paula Bonhoeffer (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy)--I don't know much about her, but what I do know I like. Married into a smart family that didn't really want religion, she kept alive her past family's religious heritage. I'm sure a lot of that influenced Bonhoeffer's interest in the church.
15. Alec's mother (Black Stallion)--Who wouldn't want an awesome mom like that? She lets her son ride a killer of a horse, go to horse races all over the country, travel to Arabia, buy an even greater killer of a horse, and just makes sure he's well fed and loved in the meantime.
16. Grace (Best Christmas Pageant Ever)--She ran a church Christmas pageant. With the Herdmans. Guys, if you haven't read this book, it will have you laughing from page 1.
17. Sarah Wheaton (Sarah, Plain and Tall)--At first a step-mother, and then with children of her own, Sarah brought healing and imagination to Anna and Caleb after their own mother died. Since my dad grew up in Maine, I loved her Maine heritage as well. :)
18. Julianna Von Stolberg (Dr. Oma) --She had seventeen children. Her son was William of Orange, and she grew up in a volatile historical time with a deep faith in God.
19. Mama (All-of-a-Kind-Family)--Her Jewish food made my mouth water. A good mix of kind, strict, and her heart was securely in the home taking care of her family.
20. Mother (Swiss Family Robinson)--We never knew her name. Mother is all she's known by. But in the movie and in the book, she has a kind, pioneering spirit like Ma Ingalls, only on a deserted island. Her boys (and husband) loved her.


There aren't--ahem--very many mothers in literature. Louisa May Alcott and the Little House Books have the most, as well as probably some children's books. Is losing a mother a necessary character lack for the purpose of every story? Perhaps. At any rate, there are a lot of motherless lads and lasses running around, and I hope they find someone to take care of them soon!

I'm indebted to my own mother, who has driven and walked with me to the library so many times, homeschooled me with great dedication all the way through highschool, and read so many books aloud to us. Without her years of investment, this blog would not exist. :)

Which mothers would you add to this list? :)

Credit for Sarah Wheaton goes to The Good and the Bad: Memorable Moms in Literature, by Cheshire Library blog. I am not familiar with the other site content. And thanks to Junior B. for suggesting 18 and 19. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

My Bookmark Collection

Today's post goes up early since I'm working elections tomorrow. Enjoy! 

When I was little, and my daddy read to me, I would sit beside him and bend the bookmark into as many tiny squares as I could while I listened. They were all so mangled by the end that we had to get a new one for the next volume. I'm not sure why I did, but bookmarks have always been a special part of my reading experience. Technically I don't need them. I can stop in the middle of a paragraph and pick up the next day. But I consider them an accessory, like some girls use jewelry and shoes and purses.

Today I thought it would be fun to show you my bookmark collection.


My brother and I got $5 symphony tickets when we were in highschool. So much good classical music, and our conductor was British, which made it even more pleasurable.



Ballets...plays...meeting the Von Trapp great-grandchildren. We got to see Diana's wedding dress when her dress exhibit came to town, and we saw Max McLean's Screwtape play.


These are from good friends. They are precious. And the "Shh! I'm reading." makes me smile every time. :)


Creation Museum planetarium. We like going there. And tickets for the snake shows--I once held a six-foot yellow snake all by myself so I could put the picture on my highschool graduation slideshow. (Granted, I was so scared I couldn't touch it two years prior, but hey--I grew braver with time.)


Our awesome state homeschool musicals. In Titanic one of the dads engineered the whole stage to tilt up while the ship was sinking.


Our local library handed out Emma bookmarks when it first released on PBS. Guys, the last episode coincided with the Superbowl. It was agony switching back and forth--during the proposal!!


Most of these are bookmarks my grandma has given me with books for Christmas gifts. Some I just found around the house. I gave them a good home.


These bookmarks are sold so the proceeds can help women rescued from horrible situations. They are very special.


One friend made me bookmarks with all the featured quotes of the year from my blog! I was so tickled. :)

Every time we went somewhere special and got tickets, I would carefully save them for a bookmark. It is a way to remember what happens throughout the years, and to call those memories to mind. I have been so, so blessed to be in a state/city where a lot of neat stuff comes to town, and blessed as well with good friends who share my love for reading.

Do you have a bookmark collection? I'd love to see them. :)

Blessings,
Schuyler

Friday, May 1, 2015

How to Talk to a Writer (For All Non-Writing Friends)



Communication between writers and non-writers can be difficult. There's this hidden language of fiction writers that other people just plain don't relate to ("Your character told you they didn't like their plot? Um, hello, I thought you were writing fiction.") Understandably, conversations can get stilted, and if you start off with the #1 conversation-killer: "When are you getting published?" they'll be so traumatized looking for the 1001 way to say "I don't know", that they'll make a quick exit.

They don't know when they're getting published. Your watch and my weather and the publisher's budget and yesterday's breakfast all have to conspire together at just the right time. Until that happens, a writer's responsibility is to keep writing.

But writers love to talk about their writing, and non-writers can have valuable and exciting perspectives to give. Now that I'm finished writing my book, I want to post a few articles to bridge the gap and explain in non-writing terms what this process is like. I love to make people comfortable enough to have conversations with each other, and I want to help you know what goes on in a writer's world.

If you know a writer, here are 4 easy questions that you can use when talking with them about their book, and 4 questions to avoid. The questions are calculated to lead to other related topics. If your writer friend is a mature conversationalist, it should give you a much more fruitful and interesting discussion than hearing them say "I don't know" all the time. :)

4 Best Questions to Ask 

1. What setting/time period is your story in? 
A book's setting is the country and culture that the story takes place in. This can be a really neat conversation, because chances are your writer friend has studied the Revolutionary War or World War 2 or Medieval England and collected a lot of facts you might be interested in knowing. If they write fantasy (creating their own worlds like Narnia or Middle Earth) then they'll have even more to share.

Don't test their knowledge by quizzing them if you know a lot about their book's time period. That shuts down conversations very quickly.  A novel can only cover a tiny sliver of a war, and if General Jack Pershing has no bearing on their story, they probably didn't take the time to research him. Offer to share with them what you know, and most authors will be more than happy to receive the free research help.

2. What do you want your story to accomplish?
Young writers nowadays are becoming extremely visionary. They are using their books to share the gospel, debunk evolution, inspire people to advance the kingdom of God, talk about politics, slavery, medical care, etc. Sometimes they simply want to provide Christian entertainment. Find out what their vision is. Most would love to share, and if they don't have a vision, your question might get them thinking about why they write.

3. What does your writing process look like? Can you show me some of the tools or inspiration you use? 
Writers have Pinterest boards of actor pictures, photos of their setting, and objects in their story. These are things they use to help bring the story alive so that you as the reader can feel like you are experiencing it. Many writers would be very happy to show you some pictures, and so thrilled that you asked. Also, some authors use software specifically created for writing novels. You might be interested in seeing that too. If they're feeling really comfortable, they might pull out a notebook and ask you to read samples of their writing. Most authors love to hear what you think of their writing. Personally, I would love to show anyone Pinterest boards and scrapbooks of the things I'm working on, and I love to show snippets as well on occasion.

4. How can I be in prayer for your book? 
Writer or non-writer, every Christian prays. And authors really rely on your prayers for them. By the end of my novel, I was asking a lot of people to pray for me, because I was very overwhelmed. Fixing plots so they make sense, making characters lovable (or hatable) and catching all the grammatical errors are not easy. If you can't think of any other question, this is the number 1 best question to ask a writer friend. If you want to be a regular prayer partner, that would be a huge gift to give them.

4 Worst Questions To Avoid 
I feel somewhat awkward about including these, as I have been asked a combination of all of them. If
you have ever asked me one of these questions, rest assured I love you very much and I really don't mind. They are common questions that every writer gets. But there are some questions that are very discouraging to try to answer. I want tell you why they're hard for writers to talk about, so you can have easier and more interesting conversations with them.

1. When are you getting published?
If you're meeting a writer for the first time, go ahead and ask them this question. If they have a book published, they'll be excited to share. If they aren't published, however, try to limit asking the same question to about once every three or four months. That keeps them from feeling pressured. When writers feel pressured, they start sending incomplete proposals to agents, and that damages their reputation in the publishing community. That's not good. Try one of the above questions in the meantime.

2. Can I offer you some writing advice? 
In all graciousness, please no. If you do, the writer should smile and thank you and think about what you have said. But they seek out a lot of advice from professionals in their field, and having a non-writer say "You should really do this" is like having a non-parent say "You should really raise your child this way." Generally nobody appreciates that. :)

Lest you think you can't give any help, please do send suggestions! New parents don't mind helpful suggestions, and young authors don't either. Publishers you hear about, articles connected to their writing, or people you think they could connect with are all great. Send them writing blog links or people to follow on Twitter. Then let them decide if that fits with their book's vision.  Asking "do you mind if I share something with you?" is a nice gesture, but not necessary every time.

Having a mindset to share with them, not to fix their problems, makes all the difference.

3. Aren't you done yet? 
This is another really painful question. We set goals, but real life happens. Family gets sick, we get behind in book research, or the writing just plain doesn't go well. Sometimes we have to extend our deadlines, even though we're pulling late nights to fit writing time in. Most of us feel really guilty when we don't meet our goal. The only question worse than "aren't you done yet" is "why is this deadline important to you?" A simple "keep me updated on your progress" is a great thing to say instead.

4. So what do you do besides writing? 
It's not a bad question, but it leads to a dead-end conversation. To be honest, we can't think of anything. Writing is a full-time job. Writers spend hours (unpaid hours) working on it every day. Granted, there are many hobby writers out there, but a lot of people consider their writing a career. This is the one professional field where you do the work before you get paid. Writers are willing to do that because they love writing, and they feel the Lord has called them to do it. But even though they're not getting money, they put in the same work hours someone would working at a coffee shop or as a waitress or as a customer service associate. In other words, writing is their main focus. There aren't hours and hours of time they have to fill besides writing.  If they get time, they'll go to a Bible study, read a book, sleep, watch Netflix, or get out a craft project: just like you! :)


Truly, I hope this article helps give you some good conversation ideas. I've watched and experienced how hard it can be to bridge the gap between writers and non-writers, and my heart's desire is to facilitate open sharing. I am not in any way trying to say that writers deserve special treatment. Writers should be able to talk to people even if the 4 worst questions are asked, and they are responsible to answer in a mature manner. But I do hope that this article arms you with some questions so you feel more comfortable around writing friends.

This is the first in a series of articles about writing conversations that I hope to share throughout the spring. Stay tuned for more to come.

For non-writers, are there any ways that writers could make it easier for you to talk to them?
And for writers, do you have more good questions non-writers can ask that you would love to answer?

Blessings,
Schuyler

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