educational, joys of reading, just for fun, nonfiction, Uncategorized

Current Kid Read: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Our 12-year-old is the only one of our five offspring who is not an avid reader. She reads the books she is assigned for school, with mixed reactions. Every now and again, she’s assigned a book she really enjoys, but most of the time, she grits her way through it. It is a source of angst to me at times, but I’ve learned to accept that there are people born into the world, even possibly born of me, who don’t enjoy reading.

This week, however, she has been more engrossed and talkative about a book than I have witnessed since she read Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, which she truly loves. This extraordinary book -in the sense that my kids is captivated by it- is Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Young Readers Edition, which her sister picked up for her as a spontaneous gift.

omnivores dilemma young reader

I’m not sure how she knew 12-year-old would like the book, or if she even knew the book would be such a hit with her, but it has really piqued her interest in myriad ways.

Sitting next to me as I try to recapture my inner student (I recently started taking online classes via Local University.) was this child informing me that we are all basically composed of corn. The first section of the book assess the expansion of the corn industry and how affects nearly every food we put into our bodies. Unless of course, we avoid processed foods and make as much as we can from scratch.

Before encountering the book, this child was the least likely of all our children to show much interest in what was in her food so long as it tastes good. This has always had trouble dealing with our propensity to have cabinets and a fridge with nothing but healthy fare. Now, she takes the phrase “USDA Organic” with a heaping grain of salt, and is infinitely more curious about where and what kinds of meats I buy when I shop.

Behold the power of books.

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Jane Austen: Queen of the Romance Tropes

jane austen

Recently, an earnest 18-year-old young woman asked me a question in the wake of a spirited discussion in her literature class. They read and were discussing Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It was a question I dislike and tend to circumvent for myriad reasons, one of which is that I am conflicted on the subject. There is a “right” answer, an answer based on my own experience and marriage, and the truth, which is somewhere in between the two. By now, you may be wondering what the question was, so here it is:

“Mrs. T, do you think people should marry for more pragmatic reasons or only when they find ‘true love’?”

It was the end of the day, so I asked her to let me think about it in the hopes that she would forget to come back to me and follow up. Thankfully, it seems she forgot, but I didn’t forget and her question made me consider the various romance tropes to be found in classical literature.

More specifically, I noted that Jane Austen’s novels touch on almost every conceivable route to the altar to be found in life and literature. When you get past the familiar underlying theme of women on the cusp on spinsterhood, the story arcs offer a fair amount of variety. As I said, Jane Austen hits all the romance tropes (and some not so romantic tropes). Here are just a few, in no particular order:

Friends to Lovers:

  • Emma (1815). The titular character and heroine Emma meddles in everyone else’s affairs, offering bungling them while remaining clueless to the chaos she’s left in her wake. Mr. Knightley, the only sane man in the room and Emma’s eventual husband, is always there to set her straight and bring her back down to earth. I have a particular fondness for Mr. Knightley.
  • Sense and Sensibility (1811). This is one isn’t readily included in this trope because Elinor and Edward clearly forge an emotional bond early in the novel. However, it is clear that they are also good friends, and Edward was engaged to another woman initially before eventually being freed to marry Elinor.
  • Mansfield Park (1814): In the midst of a story replete with broken hearts, infidelities, and all around awfulness, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram, her cousin by marriage, eventually recognize how important they are to each other and get married.

Enemies to Lovers:

  • Pride and Prejudice (1813): Lizzy initially finds Mr. Darcy pompous, then evil, and eventually realizes that the tallest, handsomest, and richest man around is the perfect man for her.

Soul Mates:

  • Persuasion (1817): Having -under family duress- broken her engagement to Frederick Wentworth seven years earlier, the novel opens 7 year later with Anne Elliot still unmarried at 27, and the much wealthier and more established Captain Wentworth is also still unmarried. His love for Anne is as fervent as it was when they were young. After the customary dramatic twists and turns, they end up together.

If you can’t be with one you love, love the one you’re with:

  • Pride and Prejudice: I suspect the marriage of Charlotte Lucas to the obnoxious and offensive Mr. Collins was the impetus of the question posed to me by the young student.
  • Sense and Sensibility: Marianne Dashwood landed quite a catch in Colonel Brandon, but should the story have continued, it would have been a few years before she fully appreciated it.

May-December Romance:

  • Sense and Sensibility: Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood are ages 37 and 19 respectively when they eventually marry. Mr. Knightley and Emma are ages 37 and 21 when they are wed.

Fools Rush In:

  • Pride and Prejudice (1813): The foolish and rebellious Lydia Bennett runs off with the caddish and opportunistic Mr. Wickham, leaving Mr. Darcy to try and save her honor by paying Wickham a large dowry to marry Lydia.
  • Sense and Sensibility: Before coming to her senses and marrying Colonel Brandon, Marianne Dashwood foolishly gives her heart to Mr. Willoughby, and spend the lion’s share of the novel pining a man who is never going to marry her.

Those are just a few of the major tropes that spring to mind as I consider all that is encompassed in Jane Austen’s magnificent body of work. There are of course, many more; unrequited love, redemption, and whatever it is called when a man thinks a woman can save him as Henry Crawford seems to think that Fanny Price will do for him in Mansfield Park.

Can you think of any other Austen tropes which I might have missed?

 

Christian, Uncategorized

Bread and Wine

bread and wine

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. Various authors. Published in 2003. Hardcover, 430 pages.

In addition to some Scriptural passages, I decided this year to add this devotional to my Lenten readings. In many ways, it was a great blessing to me. Many of the writings challenged and stretched my faith in unexpected ways.

Conversely, there were other readings that felt needlessly preachy and even social justice-y, for want of better phrasing at present. One reading which was staunchly anti-gun rendered me particularly confused. Thankfully, the readings of this sort were a minority, but when they came up, it was a distraction which I had to pray to overcome.

If the book was dominated with such writings, I would have abandoned it. However, the reminders of the importance of self-denial, as expressed by the poetic and convicting pens of such writers as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis and St. Augustine kept me returning to this book to be challenged further.

Because it is so theologically inclusive, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t well versed in the Scripture with a strong grasp of their Christian faith. There are also times when the new Christian might read and find a bar so high she fears she will never reach it. I welcome the opportunity for honest examination of the motives of my heart, but I am also mature enough to understand that the expressions of faithfulness as described in many of the readings can leave the impression that our efforts must always manifest a perfection of spirit and self-denial (as in denial of our humanity not denial of our will) that is nigh impossible to achieve this side of heaven.

I am grateful for what I read, and look forward to reading many of these writings again, while knowing that many of them are less than stellar.

3 out 5 stars.

 

 

books for women, Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, personal, philosophy, Uncategorized

My Final, Personal Conclusions of The Feminine Mystique

This is a more personal exposition, but because my Feminine Mystique posts may have been a jumble of ambiguity to those who wondered what I really think, I want to break it down a bit. I have learned the hard way that nothing goes without saying anymore. Everything which follows is offered from the perspective of my Christian worldview.

The book was pretty much what I expected. Liberals are quite predictable. They identify a thing that rightly needs to be addressed, and then offer a poison pill as the answer to the problem. Having had only secondary knowledge of the book mostly presented from the perspective of devoted feminists or devoted anti-feminists, I wanted to read it for myself. I’ve learned to mistrust the assertions of rabid ideologues.

What Friedan got right: It is silly and anti-Biblical to relegate women to a domain solely related to what they produce sexually. The notion that a woman is designed by God, filled with His Spirit, endowed with gifts, and no one except husband and kids is supposed to reap the benefit is nuts. When you look at Friedan’s source material, it’s easy to see that something had gone terrible wrong. After WWII, women reverted almost to a Disney Princess existence, where all of life -including attending college!- was about snagging a husband. Then upon marriage, nothing mattered but keeping the house perfectly clean and the husband perfectly happy. I’m all for clean houses and happy husbands, but stay with me.

What Friedan got terribly wrong -and feminists today, including Christian feminists get wrong- is this notion that women were unfulfilled at home because they were excluded from the greater world, and that the way to bridge that gap was to leave their homes and go to work. WRONG!

We can be homemakers, full time housewives, and make a difference in the world through the use of our gifts and talents. I will use my life as an example. I have been at home 24 years. When our older girls were in school, I volunteered at their school two mornings a week. I taught several struggling students how to read, offered them love and encouragement, and it only cost me three hours a week. My home was not neglected. This was before we entered the glorious years of homeschooling.

A Christian friend of mine from our neighborhood taught a parenting class in the school based on the book “Boundaries with Kids” and I helped facilitate it. I was on both the PTA and the SCA.  I served in the greeter’s ministry at our church two Sunday mornings per month, and authored and published the monthly newsletter for the helps ministry.

Later, our entire family, led by my husband, served in our city’s men’s homeless shelter twice a month for over 10 years. We cooked for those men, served them, prayed with those men, and our children from earliest ages were right there with us. When our 4th and 5th children arrived, my life slowed down tremendously, but we still worked with the homeless although my role moved farther into administrative stuff through the outreach ministry until the two youngest were tall enough and coordinated enough to fill ice glasses and roll silverware. They were 4 and 6.

During the slower years, I started taking my babies with me to visit a couple of elderly widows in our subdivision, and boy did they love being able to play with my cute little babies!

Now we homeschool, but we also utilize a classical group two days a week. I teach a literature and writing class there in exchange for a tuition break. Again, no career, but I am contributing to a community. Not to worry though. My house is clean and my husband is happy.

Who in their right mind would say I hadn’t contributed to the world outside of my home? Who would claim that my contributions would have been greater if they were offered in the form of a career? Friedan certainly would, but a decent chunk of traditional Christian teachers of women might argue that I dedicated too much energy outside of my home, even though I was doing exactly as my husband directed, and even though my kids and home were well taken care of. Americans, including Christians, have almost completely abandoned the role of women as community builders. What better way to use our gifts?

This is why I get disturbed by and perturbed with people on both sides of this argument. One wants woman to abandon her home and the other wants to imprison her in it. Neither is what God intended.

Currently, I am considering classes to prepare me for what I hope is a book that serves as a much better Christian approach to femininity for a group of women who are by and large, in a very tough spot on these issues. Many of my females relations and friends, even those who love me dearly, view me as either highly privileged or very weak for situating my life so fully dependent on my husband.

You see, we don’t have these “to stay at home or not to stay at home” debates among black women. It is largely accepted that most black women cannot stay home. I want to talk about how we can change that for our daughters’ generation besides simply saying, “Marry a man of a different race!” which is basically the prescription being offered to single, childless black women right now. When I write it, I want it to be readable, hence school.

I thought it was only fair when I reviewed the book to be honest about the fact that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Acknowledging that Betty Friedan raised some very good questions isn’t to say I think her conclusions or prescriptions were correct.

 

Because I don’t.

Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

How well do you incorporate the ideas you read?

I am preparing to pre-order Cal Newport’s soon to be released Digital Minimalism. I don’t know for sure that there will be a whole lot inside that I haven’t considered at one point or another, but I like what he has to offer, and I like the idea of all of these considerations packaged into one book.

I’ve run the gamut as it relates to managing technology as a part of my life, going from way too much of it, to fasts of varying lengths, and everything in between. Even having reached what I think is a fairly balanced way of doing things (I’ll get to that in a minute), I still want to read his book.

Reading books which encourage me in the areas where I need or want to maintain improvement is vital for me. I can easily find myself getting overwhelmed or distracted by the stuff of life in ways that tempt me to resort to unhealthy or less productive ways of getting things done. By that I mean running in circles, feeling stressed, and demanding that everyone else join me in my madness so that “we get this stuff done already!” It’s a strategy, and I use that word loosely, which produces the exact opposite of what I want to accomplish.

Inspired in part by Hearth’s recent review of the book Boundaries, I thought a discussion of how books impact any changes we make might be interesting.  I’ll get the ball rolling by recounting a few of the ways books I’ve read have helped me make changes.

  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: I still struggle with this one occasionally, for reasons I explored in my original review.  I do purge quite regularly however, and the post-Christmas purge is underway right now. Usually, our -younger- children balk when I start discarding their things. However, inspired by their older sisters, who have been rather captivated my Marie Kondo’s broadcast version of her books, they’ve caught the purging bug as well. They did this without me standing over them to supervise like a drill sergeant:

konmari1

konmari2

 

  • Deep Work: I just realized that I never reviewed this book. Obviously, I’ve been influenced by the work of Cal Newport, and one of the biggest takeaways from his writing is the damaging effects of social media, particularly via use of smartphones:

“Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, Nass discovered, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: If every moment of potential boredom in your life—say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the “mental wrecks” in Nass’s research, it’s not ready for deep work—even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.”

The biggest change I made to help improve my attention (scientists suspect humans are down to a highly debatable 8 seconds) and ability to be distracted is removing certain apps and notifications from my phone. After deleting Instagram and WordPress, relegating them to laptop use only (unless I am uploading content), I dramatically reduced my use of technology without having to do anything else. There is still -as always in life- some room for improvement, but I’m satisfied with the changes and the resulting uptick in productive use of my time both in work and at leisure.

  • Keto Clarity: I have never been able -for various reasons- to jump into the ketogenic lifestyle with both feet and never look back, mainly because I love fruit and baking, in that order. In fact if it wasn’t for the horror I felt at the idea of never eating apples in the fall or peaches, pears, or mangoes in the summer, I might have stuck in out. Alas, I am a tropical gal and I love my tropical fruits. I have however, once and for all accepted the reality of ditching grains from my diet. I dropped the ball over the holidays of course. In the two weeks since the new year began, the difference in my skin, eyes, sleep and appetite since cutting grains and processed sugar is -as usual- remarkable. I suppose It Starts With Food should be included here as well.
  • The Power of a Praying Wife: I used this is two ways. The first was referring it to a dear wife who could use some targeted direction in praying for a husband at a difficult time. Doing that was a good refresher for me of topics I could use to pray for my own husband. Given that he is in a transitory period right now, it was a great reminder for me.
  • Life Together and The Benedict Option: These are both books which, in different ways, highlight the importance of engaged, intimate, Christian community and how it enhances our lives. In our individualistic, increasing atomized and dysfunctional culture, these are important principles for Christians to remember.

How does your reading translate into life action or change? Does you reading translate into life action or change?

 

 

 

Uncategorized

I Study The Past So I Can Repeat It

I like Joshua Gibbs. That’s for new readers here. He gives me things to consider, so I’m interrupting regularly scheduled programming to share his most recent essay.

It is relevant not only because it dovetails with my current series of posts on The Feminine Mystique, but because it is intimately connected to the ways we teach, learn, and impart values to those coming behind us. Education, which encompasses all three of those, is a major secondary theme here at Reading in Between the Life.

In I Study the Past So I Can Repeat It, Gibbs writes:

The idea that the past is a thing which men are “condemned to repeat” is just about as progressive and atheistic as it gets. For the typical Roman, Greek, or Hebrew, the past was a thing to restore, because long ago, men walked with the gods. During the 17th and 18th century, however, the growing desire for a godless government prompted political philosophers to draft new mythologies for explaining society, and thus Hobbes or Rousseau’s “state of nature” became the canvas upon which later thinkers would sketch their political ideas. Unlike the Greeks and Hebrews, Enlightened thinkers denied that men formerly communed with the gods, and claimed, instead, that the past was brutal, primitive, and that there were simply no gods with whom men could walk. Government was an invention of man, and prior to government, the life of man was wild, chaotic, and violent. Before the Enlightenment, there is very little which resembles “the cave man” in Western thought, though the cave man is an obvious necessity of the Enlightened view of history. If things were very terrible in the past, then the paltry accomplishments of the Enlightenment seem far more impressive. Out of such prejudices, the atheist philosopher George Santayana coined the proverb, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Ouch. I’ve uttered that silly phrase myself, although I hope my offering just due to the good and godly values we have discarded makes up for it.

He continues later in the piece:

In this day and age, the danger of “idolizing the past” is a good bit like the danger of “works righteousness,” which is to say it is not much of a danger at all. Given the profound sloth, laziness, boredom, and ennui of the average American, we are flattering ourselves to pretend “works righteousness” is a sin to which we are actually tempted. Further, the omnipresence of banal, sensual, ephemeral popular culture has placed the possibility of idolizing the past on a very long hiatus. If this nation began making a conscious effort to worship the past, I suspect it would take all of us— working around the clock— more than fifty years of robust and tireless idol-making before a single instance of genuinely blasphemous love for the past was truly possible. We loathe the past. Even conservative Christians loathe the past. Spend an hour in Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and you will see that fewer than one in a thousand self-professed conservatives alive today has the respect for custom or tradition which served as the ante for conservative political philosophy at the end of the 19th century. The average modern “conservative” has more in common with Rachel Maddow than Edmund Burke.

You should really go read the whole thing.

Read, enjoy, think.

Happy Tuesday!