Organizing the Reading Queue- Again

As part of my September reset, I decided developing a reading plan is as important for an aspiring book blogger to solidify and set a firm agenda for the books I want to read and review for the final quarter of 2019.

My list consists of 7 books I hope to read and review by year’s end. That might not sound particularly ambitious, but my schedule has become quite packed this school year so for me, it’s pretty ambitious. The only reason I even hope to finish is that three of the books on this list are in the process of being read. Two of them are near the halfway point.

Here’s the fourth quarter reading queue (not to be at all tinkered with by distraction or whimsy!):

Fiction

 

Christian

 

Nonfiction or Historical

  • Setting the Record Straight: African-American History in Black and White, by David Barton. I’m more than halfway done with this one as well, so expect a review soon.
  • The White Horse King: The Life of King Alfred the Great, by Benjamin R. Merkle. This one is probably going to take the most time and be the last book review of 2019.
  • The Offline Dating Method by Camille Virgina is a soon-to-be-released manual to help women break away from the online dating nightmare and learn how to attract and connect with men in the real world. The early reviews seem to indicate that this author’s approach is helpful when it comes to real world socialization in general, and not just romantic connections. Being blissfully married with a robust social life myself, I’m interested in this book for reasons of curiosity and to examine its viability.

What are you reading or looking forward to reading?

 

 

 

Friday Faves: Fall Planning

Never mind that it is literally 96 degrees as I type this. School is back in session, Labor Day has come and gone, and the calendar is flipped to the ninth month of the year. The official date of the autumnal equinox isn’t until September 23, but for all intents and purposes, fall is upon us. With the impending season change, it is time for me to kick aside the laxness that characterizes some of my habits throughout the summer months.

During the summer, we do minimal school, entertain more, and eat a hefty amount of birthday cake, as all 7 of our immediate family members celebrate birthdays during the four months between the end of school and it’s start. Family reunions, entertaining, eating out, sleeping in (if you consider 6 sleeping in) and a general relaxed approach to life has giving way to a more structured schedule.

In fact, I am far more motivated to resets, goal setting, and re-examining my whys and wherefores as September begins than I ever have been on January 1st. I never really pondered deeply why I am more motivated for kicking into high gear and resets in September while feeling militantly opposed to making changes in January, but Rachel recently wrote about her similar tendency, and it felt good to hear from a kindred spirit on the matter:

So, what to do with September, especially if one is a Southerner (possibly a Californian)? If one can ignore the protracted grasp of summer, like scorched gardens contrasted with tropical storms, and pools and lake swimming areas prematurely closing while the Costco parking lot appears as an undulating asphalt mirage, it’s a great time to do great things. Really, it is – stay with me….

September is the perfect opportunity to get ahead of the Holiday game, and to start a New Year without the burden of the Holidays on top of it all. And do most of it in the singular bliss of air-conditioning. I wrote a long while back about my New Year’s calendar not even starting until February. That worked better for my family than trying to cram our whole life plan into January, but it was still not entirely user-friendly for us and usually ended in unmet goals and a lot of aggravation. So, against my nature (rebel, though true to form, according to this model, I resent the label), I convinced myself that it was my idea to move the annual reset back to September 1.

My brain wants to already have accomplished and had my goals well under way by January 1, so Rachel’s post spoke to me. So here are some of the favorite things I have been anticipating and lining up over the past week:

  • Organizing the reading queue based on genre (Christian, fiction, nonfiction, etc)
  • More detailed menu planning for al three meals
  • Purchased the HASfit 30-day muscle building plan to supplement the HIIT training I do with my husband
  • Making a targeted but flexible daily schedule for myself and the kids for the days when they are at home
  • Strategically setting goals for all the areas that I have let lax over the long summer months
  • Resuming gratitude journaling because there’s something about mindful gratitude that enlarges the soul
  • Exploring the range of recipes I can cook up using the apples, pears, and figs which will soon be in season
  • Begin holdiday shopping in September rather than late October (aspirational)

Those are just a few of the plans and goals I have set as our family transitions from the lazy days of summer to the busy days of fall. Never mind that it’s 96 degrees out.

What are some of your transitions as fall begins?

 

 

 

 

Friday Faves: A Bibliophile’s Hurricane Necessities

Happy Friday, all!

Gonna keep this one short and sweet since those of us on the southern half of the peninsula are supposed to be super busy right now scurrying about, filling the coffers at Home Depot and Lowe’s.

And I probably would be, were I not married to the most prepared, competent man on the planet. I say that well aware of the bias which informs it. Did I mention he’s also 6’2″ and super cute? But I digress.

Even though we’re seasoned natives who are well prepared, there are a few things a reader needs to be on top of for herself. In the event of no electricity for days on end, she needs to power her evening reading. So now that the grocery is stocked, gas tanks are full, and the generator’s been tested, what does a bibliophile preparedness checklist look like?

  • Charge all e-readers: Kindle, iPad, old Kindle, and the cell phone all need to be fully charged so that even when it’s dark and the lights are out, I can still read. My Kindle Fire is backlit!

kindle fire.jpg

  • Booklights: You know, those little contraptions that snap on to the top of the book and then shine onto the page, however poorly. The key to those is to have several so you can use two at a time.

booklight2

  • Homework checklist and reading schedule for the kids. It’s highly likely they won’t have school on Tuesday and possibly Thursday, so it’ll be imperative that I make sure they stay on track with their assignments. That way, when they return to classes, they are prepared to turn in all assignments as scheduled. Things can get a little loosey goosey around here between Labor Day and the upheaval of the norm that hurricanes and power outages bring with them.

checklist2

  • Instant coffee (and tea bags): When you’re running on generator power, you must be selective about which components to divert the power to, and the coffee maker doesn’t make the cut. The stove might, though, meaning you can boil water. Morning reading feels better with a cuppa, so with instant coffee (I drink decaf) or your favorite tea bags on hand, you don’t have to forgo your hot morning drink.

cuppa

Well, that’s all I can think of at the moment. Dorian isn’t due till Tuesday, as he keeps delaying his visit, so if you can think of another useful item I may have forgotten, do tell!

Preferably before Sunday.

Does schooling equal educating?

…and are we truly educating anyone anymore?

I have to pick my kids up from class in 30 minutes, so we’ll see if I can eke this out quickly while also inducing curiosity and conversation.

One of my children, recently 13, shared with me a video that a fellow homeschooled friend shared with her. It’s about 8 minutes long, but he’s engaging enough that you won’t get bored. Well, I didn’t get bored.

I don’t agree with every point this young man makes, but he does make a few excellent points that are rarely questioned in the current educational climate. The powers that be spend so much time clamoring for more money to education, no one stops to ask if money is the cure for what ails our education system. Meanwhile, the parents who have the time, money, and life margin to do so opt out of the system, leaving it mostly filled with students from families without the time, money and life margin to exercise alternative options.

It is easy to dismiss the “roll call of the uneducated” that this guy rattles off in defense of his condemnation of school. After all, most of the contemporary drop-outs he mentions were college drop-outs, not secondary school drop-outs. The older names he mentions carry much more weight. As a homeschooling parent, it resonates. It resonates because I recognize that “schooling” and “education” are not synonymous. That is why men such as Abraham Lincoln was sharp of mind and intellect despite a lack of formal schooling.

Right before I watched this video, I read this very insightful piece by Joshua Gibbs. We are heavily invested in the classical education model, including its ideals, so Gibbs’ ideas speak to me even as I recognize that present practical realities mean you have to tick off some boxes for the sake of expediency and legality.

In the ideal world of the passionate classical educator, however, grades, grade levels and all that jazz fade away into obsolescence as education returns to a focus on the good, the true and the beautiful:

Gibbs: As a conservative who generally sides with tradition, I don’t care a fig about progress, but I do care quite a bit about stability and sustainability. What most modern people call “progress,” I call “instability.” The changes this school has made over the last several years have not been accomplished in the name of “progress.” It would be fairer to say the changes are regressive, because they’re aimed at the past, not the future.

Parent: “Regressive” doesn’t sound good, though.

Gibbs: It doesn’t sound good to ears accustomed to hearing the word “progress” used as an unqualified good. Most progressive things are relatively new and based on theories, but conservatives are interested in what has worked and progressives are interested in what might work better.

Parent: So, will using catechisms work better than not using catechisms?

Gibbs: I believe catechisms have worked in the past. Catechisms aren’t something I dreamed up. They don’t work in theory, but in fact. The catechism is one of the most traditional forms of transmitting knowledge there is. Catechisms were abandoned some time ago to make room for progressive models of education, so in returning to catechisms, this school is actually removing what was unsustainable and unstable. A return to stability always involves change—not change for the sake of change but change for the sake of changelessness. I would say the same of the other changes the school has made lately, as well.

Parent: If catechisms and Greek are so traditional, why weren’t they put in place years ago when this school started?

Gibbs: I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes for many years and one of the most important lessons Solomon offers in that book is that no one gets everything they want. Not even the king gets everything he wants. To be frank, I would love to do away with grades entirely. You would be surprised how many teachers at classical schools would love to snap their fingers and make grades disappear. But I know how that would look to many parents. It would look like capitulation to the zeitgeist. It would look like this school was bowing to relativism or forsaking the objectivity of truth. I tend to think that in 20 years, grades are going to be so obviously broken and meaningless that everyone will see it, but I’m content to wait until then.

Go read the whole thing and if inclined, share your thoughts.

None of this is to say that practical things can’t be a part of formal education. By practical I mean the things mentioned in the above linked video: financial education and money management, cooking, practical hands-on skills in order to handle fundamental household needs, and  basic technological skills. To those, I would add statistics and bare bones, no frills studies of the U.S. Constitution. Young people need to know these things and for everything else they need to be equipped with the tools to teach themselves.

Our classical education revolves around studies of writing, literature, logic, history, Latin, and contemplation. Math and science are handled in a more standard educational format for now. We’re not particularly interested in state standards and metrics for where my kid should be, but that doesn’t mean we disregard assessments and measuring progress. We simply know that those are not the principle things, and that at the end of the day, they aren’t the determining factor of success in life.

I’ve learned exponentially more about nearly every subject over the past ten years (except math) than I learned throughout my entire K-12 education plus college years. I have had to actively unlearn many things, in fact.

Lastly, I was conversing with a friend lately and she asked the question: If a high school diploma and 13 years of school cannot even secure a young person a decent job, why are we constantly being asked to pay more and more money in taxes to prop up K-12 education? The short, pat answer of course, is to get our students college ready so that they can pay tens of thousands more dollars to earn a degree and still not necessarily obtain lucrative employment.  But now I just sound cynical when I don’t mean to. The real issue here is:

Can mass schooling produce a genuinely useful, valuable education? And if it can, how do we fix the systemic problems within it which currently prohibit that outcome?

By the way, I wasn’t able to crank this post out in the allotted time. I decided it was more important to peel and dice the sweet potatoes for dinner before picking up the kids. Such is the nature of homeschool life.

 

Friday Faves Potpourri

I don’t have a bookish list of Friday Faves this week, but I’ll plan one for next week. Meanwhile, join me for another post of potpourri.

~This week, my husband shared a couple of thoughtful items with me that are certainly among my favorite “finds” of the week, and also worth sharing. One is a story (author unknown) about the importance of perspective:

A writer was in his study room. He picked up his pen and started writing:

“Last year, I had a surgery and my gallbladder was removed. I had to stay stuck to the bed due to this surgery for a long time.

The same year I reached the age of 60 years and had to give up my favorite job. I had spent 30 years of my life in this publishing company.

The same year I experienced the sorrow of the death of my father.

And in the same year my son failed in his medical exam because he had a car accident. He had to stay in bed at hospital with the cast on for several days. The destruction of car was another loss.

At the end he wrote: Oh God! It was such bad year!”

When the writer’s wife entered the room, she found her husband looking sad and lost in his thoughts. From behind his back she read what was written on the paper. She left the room silently and came back with another paper and placed it on side of her husband’s writing.

When the writer saw this paper, he found his name written on it with following lines:

“Last year I finally got rid of my gallbladder due to which I had spent years in pain…

I turned 60 with sound health and got retired from my job. Now I can utilize my time to write something better with more focus and peace..

The same year my father, at the age of 95, without depending on anyone or without any critical condition met his Creator…

The same year, God blessed my son with a new life. My car was destroyed but my son stayed alive without getting any disability…

At the end she wrote: This year was an immense blessing of God and it passed well!”

The writer was indeed happy and amazed at such beautiful and encouraging interpretation of the happenings in his life in that year!

Moral: In daily lives we must see that it’s not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.

He is more likely than I am to remember the importance of a positive perspective in the midst of a stressful season, but I’ve grown ever more grateful the longer I’ve lived.
~The second thing he shared with me was a reintroduction to this sermon by Voddie Baucham on the true meaning and purpose of marriage. Worth a listen.

 

~We had a party recently in which board games were the center of the action. Some of the games the kids chose were among my favorites, and some weren’t. Board and card games are an excellent, screen-free way to interact and have fun. Here are a few of my  favorite board games and my least favorite board games.

First up, my favorites:

  • Scrabble: I’ve been a word game fanatic for as long as I remember. I will always choose a word game over any other kind and Scrabble is the classic, quintessential word game.
  • Uno: I am not quite sure why I enjoy this simple card game, but I do. I suspect in part because it doesn’t take forever to play around.
  • Taboo: The game where you help your people figure out what you’re describing without using any obvious words as clues. Fun stuff!
  • 5-Second Rule: You have five seconds to name three items in a particular category. Sometimes it’s easy, but others it’s harder than you might think.

My least favorites:

  • Monopoly: I have lost my patience for just about any board game that cannot be completed in an hour’s time, whatever that says about me.
  • Werewolf: My kids like this game, and I have not been able to figure out why
  • Telestrations: I cannot draw. The end.
  • Twister: Enough said.

~Continuing with my theme of fun in the kitchen on Fridays, I stumbled onto an excellent grain free chocolate chip cookie, which I served at the aforementioned party to rave reviews. One of my requirements for any keto, paleo, or whatever-other-o recipe is that has to be good all on it’s own. In other words, it can’t be “good for a paleo cookie”, or “good for a keto cookie”. If that’s the reaction I have when I taste it, it isn’t good enough. This recipe produces a good cookie. Period:

As much as I wish I had come up with this easy recipe on my own, it’s not mine. You can find it here. Perhaps I’ll share my pancake recipe next week if I remember to both write it down and take pictures.

~Lastly,  this month’s reading list is an overlapping of three very different books, each enjoyable in its own way. I hope to finish them all within the few weeks:

  • The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy, published in 1905
  • The White Horse King: The Life of King Alfred the Great, by Benjamin Merkle
  • The 5000 Year Leap, by W. Cleon Skousen

As I said, three very different books, each with varying degrees of thought required. To complete them in the midst of an increasingly busy fall schedule will require a bit of focus, but I hope to do it.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend!

 

 

 

 

How to Be Unlucky, part 2

how to be unlucky

How to Be Unlucky: Reflections on the Pursuit of Virtue, by Joshua Gibbs. Originally published in 2018. 246 pages.

Part 1 of this review touched a lot on the spiritual characteristics highlighted in the book’s reflections on the pursuit of virtue. Another aspect of it is that it is also highly concerned with the role the teacher has -in this case the Christian classical educator- in helping his student to pursue virtue.

To that end, interspersed between all the deep burning questions and conundrums Boethius poses to Lady Philosophy in The Consolation, the author treats us to a sampling of the discussions he has with his students. Discussions in which he reminds them of many things, one of which is that adults are no more virtuous than they are, and with it the importance of understanding that now is the time to cultivate goodness.

In the chapter titled On Pedagogy, Gibbs keeps me pretty well riveted (and convicted) from beginning to end. In the chapter he makes the distinction between the three parts of our being which must be rightly ordered for us to be truly virtuous, drawing from C. S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man. Regular readers here are not unfamiliar with the brain as the icon for what we know, the heart for what we love, and the stomach for what we want, our appetite for pleasant things. He argues that stomach holds more power than the brain, and that the heart and the brain must work together to subdue the stomach. This is the reason I so relate and appreciate Mr. Gibbs’ commentary. He isn’t afraid to get real:

Early in my marriage I came to realize that Scripture is no talisman for warding off sin…

On the other hand, when I was tempted to the degradations of lust, I typically found that imagining my wife’s face distorted by tears was such a talisman. Any man battling the temptation to lust will do far better changing his computer desktop to an image of his wife than some artist’s representation of the Ten Commandments. This is not because a man loves his wife more than God (though most men do, in my experience), but because a wife is the living embodiment of the seventh commandment; a spouse is the incarnation of an abstract moral precept. p. 148

Perhaps it’s because I’ve always stood a little in awe of my husband and have also always battled to keep my love of God and my love for my husband in the proper order, but this speaks to me. Deeply, and I cannot remember a time in the last two decades when I’ve read an author or heard a preacher get real this way about well… almost anything. The connection between the physical, living embodiment of a spiritual principle itself is almost unheard of in modern Christian thought. It’s as if admitting that we struggle to do what is right and that it isn’t oh-so-easy simply because we’re head over heels in love with God whom we cannot see makes us bad Christians.

So we pretend. Gibbs doesn’t, and I liked that.

In the chapter titled On Pleasure, Gibbs gets into the confusion and cognitive dissonance that has gripped American Christians as we have designated just about every solitary act as either sinful or not sinful. In doing so, we’ve equalized things that are not equal even though they are not sinful. We’ve also freed ourselves to be perpetually amused and superficially sated, yet without guilt.

Earthly pleasure can lead to sanctification and epiphany, and we should “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), as the Psalmist says; however seeing that “the Lord is good” is not a result of every taste, and an over-abundance of tasting distracts from our ability to see that the Lord is good. p. 193

In the chapter On Metaphysics and Freedom, Gibbs hits some topics that I am still turning over in my mind. The first is that Adam and Eve didn’t have a sin nature when they sinned, yet the first things we utter when confronted with our sin or someone else’s is that it is our sin nature. Now that alone is enough to stir debate all the livelong day, isn’t it?

His point isn’t to dismiss that Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, but that Christians are so quick to *go there* that we often miss opportunities to address real issues and concerns rather than spout off pat religious answers that we think are super spiritual. Sometimes the answer is simply, we don’t know everything, nor can we.

The title of the final chapter is Why Do Anything? In it, Gibbs closes by making the point that what we do in our mundane daily lives in less important than how ( I’d also add why) we do it.

If a man is willing to become common and to live a common life with times and seasons which God makes common to all, he will submit himself to a mysterious, transcendent reality. p.230

I completely agree, and that is one of the beautiful takeaways of this book in a world and church which is yelling at each of us that we are not common, are not subject to the law of averages, and in so doing makes us perpetually discontent with normal, anonymous daily living.

If I’d offer any negative criticism of the book, it’s that on occasion the flow left a little to be desired. It felt disjointed at a few points, but the overwhelming amount of wisdom and opportunity to for this reader to examine herself and her motivations far outweighed that minutiae.

5 out of 5 stars

You can read a sample of the first chapter of How to Be Unlucky at this link.

How to Be Unlucky, part 1

how to be unlucky

How to Be Unlucky: Reflections on the Pursuit of Virtue, by Joshua Gibbs. Originally published in 2018. 246 pages.

You can read a sample of chapter 1 of How to Be Unlucky here.

The year is young, from a reader’s perscpective, and I still have two Christian books in my queue for the fall (Sacred Pathways and Meet Generation Z), so this may be a premature pronouncement. Nevertheless, I’m going to make it: How to Be Unlucky is by far my favorite nonfiction read of 2018. More than that, and this is saying a lot, it has syrocketed to my top 10 list of Christian books worth reading.

Before I get too far into this, I should issue fair warning. As I have been breathlessly sharing my thoughts on this book with different people, and especially as I share posts penned by Gibbs at the Circe Institute’s Cedar Room Blog, I’ve come to appreciate that Mr. Gibbs is an acquired taste. His tone, idealism, and pull no punches rhetoric isn’t for everyone.

If like me, you like your Truth straight up, you’re tired of pussyfooting around hard things and weary of making excuses for your own shortcomings, then you’ll like this book. If you need caveats and heaping loads of grace poured onto your principled exceptions and extraordinary situations, then skip it. If you don’t like hearing that we do rotten things because of the rot that is in us, and because we take great comfort in indulging our pet sins, again,  I advise you to skip it.

The really cool thing about this book, if I may use such an irreverent term, is that it isn’t at all the Calvinist-sounding manifesto you might be anticipating based on my introductory description. Gibbs is big “o” Orthodox and a classical educator who teaches Great Books to high schoolers, and that, rather than Calvinist theology is what frames the philosophical arguments he makes in this book.

Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy is the source and backdrop which Gibbs uses to take his readers on a journey to prayerfully peel back the layers and examine what really makes us tick. There are several Biblical references, but like a true classisist and adherent of a very old traditional church of the Christian faith, Gibbs draws on the beauty and truth that has been passed down through ages; not as a replacement for Scripture, but as evidence that all expressions of truth are God’s Truth, and I had no trouble drawing clear lines of connection between what Gibbs offered from Boethius and the Truth as revealed in the Bible.

I’m almost done with my second reading of the book, and I’m already getting knee deep into reading The Scarlet Pimpernel along with my kids for literature class, so I figured I should stop mulling over how to review this book and just get to it.

On the first page of the book, Gibbs sets the stage for what to come when he confesses:

I was embarrassingly old by the time I first heard a robust answer to the question, “Why be good?”

Given that, if I am not mistaken, this author is not yet 40 years old, he’s certainly not embarrassingly old, but I do understand this sentiment. American Christianity (and yes, I know how that characterization sounds) is embarrassingly inconsistent is so many ways that it’s easy to see why one might be confused by things that shouldn’t be particularly confusing. At least if we believe, and I do, that our faith is not void of reason or logic.

The struggle to encapsulate what I gleaned from this book is the reason for my delay in reviewing it, so I’ll put a bow on this by offering my favorite quotes from each chapter, beginning with the chapter entitled, Death as a Practical Problem:

Every pursuit of maturity-made during any stage of life, whether made by a high school sophomore or a man in his retirement- is ultimately a preparation for death, there is no sense in preparing for anything else. p.71

This is from the same chapter but I liked it, so:

The oldest woman in the club is an embarrassment, but she is also the woman who was the second-oldest in the club last month, the third-oldest last winter, the fourth-oldest last year…and the three-hundred-twenty-ninth oldest on the eve of her 21st birthday, when she went out dancing for the first time. She had the cultural right to go out on her twenty-first birthday, but with every passing day, the ultimate unreliability of this right should be increasingly clear to her. The best way to not become the oldest woman in the club is to quit going to the club the moment you realize such a future is distasteful. p.70.

From the chapter Fortune, Luck, and Salvation:

The   modern man wants every proverb qualified, asterisked, and stated so tentatively that it has nothing to do with himself. Only a common man cares about what commonly happens, but ours is a generation of proud weirdos. For a proverb to be of value to a man, he must see himself as normal, ordinary, common. He must not see himself as special, atypical, excused from the law of averages. A proverb is not a law, but a description of the world right down the middle. Thus, the more unique a man thinks himself, the less open he is to the wisdom of the ages, for Solomon is not interested in describing the unusual cases, but the conventional ones. p.91

From the chapter Temptation and Besetting Sins:

That the wicked are “happier if they suffer punishment than if they are unrestrained” (p.97) [of The Consolation] is obvious to anyone who has tired of the anxiety which attends continually getting away with sin. Few men want to confess their sin, but they dream of how good life might be today of they had confessed their sin a year ago. A man wants to be done with his sin, but he doesn’t want to suffer the embarrassment of cutting himself off from it, for truly breaking entrenched sinful habits requires the help of others who then become aware of his struggle. Hence, a man tries to deal with his sin on his own. p.135

It wasn’t my original intent to analyze this post in parts, and it still isn’t, but I thinkit will take two posts to say everything I wish to about the book, so I’ll finish doing that in part 2.