Brave Girls of History: a Book List

First order of business: thank you for weighing in with your comments on my last post. How very cheering to hear from so many of you! I wasn’t sure if blogs were a thing of the past, especially rather lethargic blogs, but now I know there is a cloud of friends still out there. You all made my day!

After I posted a list of survival books for boys, I thought that I could have titled it “Survival Books for Anybody” because girls love learning these skills as well. My outdoor-lovers carry pocket knives and weave baskets out of grasses. They forage foods out of the woods and reference them with field guides. Rita loves to build a fire in the backyard to roast hotdogs, to stick potatoes in the coals, or to cook a bit of rice in a small kettle she bought at a yard sale. The girls pack their own version of survival kits, which usually include needles and thread, band-aids and chap-stick, some salt, and always a baggie of oatmeal. They eat oatmeal dry for snacking outside, and I have a suspicion that it is a result of reading lots of stories about brave girls in history and learning how important it is to have shelf-stable provisions.

Here are some of our favorite stories about girls who were survivors. The picture is the link that will take you to the Big A if you click on it.

On the tip-top of the list is the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Worth every penny just for the wonderful way they are written, these stories should be on every American family’s bookshelf for the historical significance. (all ages)

Elizabeth Yates is a solid author, one I trust for good content any time I see her name on a book cover. One of her wonderful stories for girls is Carolina’s Courage, a tale of a young girl who gives up her greatest treasure when her family settles in Indian Territory. (all ages)

Last winter we read Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson. It is a fictional account of  a historical epidemic of fever in the city of Philadelphia. The main character is a girl from a fairly wealthy family who ends up having to perform menial tasks for the sake of her sick loved ones. As the fever rages across the city, it burns up her selfishness and teaches her what the most important things really are. (ages 8-14)

The Courage of Sarah Noble, by Alice Dalgliesh, is a true frontier story from 1707. Young Sarah accompanies her father through the wilderness to keep house for him while he builds a cabin for his family. “Keep up your courage, Sarah Noble,” her mother says in her parting advice to her little daughter. (ages 6-12)

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry is a story we have enjoyed on Audible many times. During World War II, the Germans began rounding up the Jews in Denmark as they did in all their conquered territory. Anne-Marie is a small girl in a family that is helping Jews escape. There are some heavy themes in the book, but they are told from the artless viewpoint of a young child, so they are not as graphic as many of the stories from this time frame. (ages 6-12)

Calico Captive and The Witch of Blackbird Pond are both by Elizabeth George Speare . Both are stories of colonial New England and both contain a slightly spoiled young lady who learns through difficult circumstances that frilly clothes and pretty baubles are shallow comfort in the face of real need. (Probably written for ages 10 and up… We have these on audio, so the younger girls listen to them even though they would not be up to this reading level.)
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Island of the Blue Dolphins is the challenging tale of the survival of a young girl who found herself all alone on an island off the coast of California. She lived there alone for nearly 20 years. Scott O’Dell wrote her story as a work of fiction, since nobody ever really understood this woman’s language when she was rescued.

Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher is a classic I have loved since childhood. This is another wonderful audiobook in our library. Betsy is a small girl who is beset by many fears due to her Aunt Francis’ careful tutelage that everything is scary. When her aunt becomes ill, Betsy is bustled away to a remote cousin’s farm in Vermont. The story is an amusing account of Betsy’s realization that she is actually quite brave.

Patricia St. John is another author I unequivocally endorse. She has written many beautiful books for children, all with themes of faith and redemption. In Rainbow Garden she describes a sad city girl who has to live with a foster family in the country. All the changes make her feel terribly lonely, but her misery slowly changes into joy as she tends a secret garden and discovers the love of God for all living things, including herself.

Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm,  by Kate Douglas Wiggin, is not exactly a survival story, but it is a fun read about a lively little girl who manages to live with a passel of dour elderly aunts.

 

Christian heroes biographies about Gladys Aylward, Corrie ten Boom, Darlene Diebler, Amy Carmichael, and many more. These are all role models of faith and great perseverance in hardships.

In reading these books, I have a goal to give my girls friends from other centuries, cultures, and customs who have faced similar circumstances in life and learned to be brave and work through them. It’s not just stories I am peddling to my children, and it’s definitely more than entertainment. These brave girls are their friends.

When you are afraid of taking the table scraps to the chickens after dark, it’s good to think of Betsy who faced down a dark night in a pit. When you feel like everybody around you is strange, you can remember Laura and Mary walking the gauntlet of eyes at a new school. When you face a crisis, the memory of plucky little Gladys praying her way into China will certainly help you to reach out for help from God.

Tell me of books I missed. We’re always on the lookout for more good friends around here.

 

Survival Books for Boys

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With one son camping with friends and another ready for a weekend course on Outdoor Emergency Care, I thought it would be appropriate to finish this post that I have been incubating for a while.

When we upgraded our book shelves, we categorized a lot better and I found a section of books that are specifically geared to survival. I didn’t even know this was a genre until I started buying books for my sons. They have been pretty absorbed with the idea, and it really escalated their interest when Gabe took them wilderness camping in the Adirondacks for a week. I would like to be with my husband/sons in the event of a disaster. Both of the boys have built primitive shelters in the woods with scrounged materials and have amassed impressive bug-out bags full of essential gear such as Lifestraws and flint strikers for building fires. Once Gabe bought a thousand foot roll of paracord for them and was astonished at how quickly they powered through the entire roll with their projects. I thought it was definitely worth the investment, since it kept them busy for days, seeing how many feet of cord they could weave into one survival bracelet. I will draw a merciful curtain on the pocket knife situation. I don’t pretend that our wild and free ideas of learning survival are for everyone, but if you’re interested in armchair learning, here are some book reviews from Greg.

Starting at the bottom of the pile up there, with Northeast Foraging, Greg says, “This is our best foraging guide because the author started foraging with her grandma and she gives good advice for how to prepare the food you find. Also, it is our region.”

  We have a Peterson’s Guide to Edible Plants as well, which is much more comprehensive, but not helpful when the plants don’t even grow in our area.

  Outdoor Life Ultimate Bushcraft  is Gregory’s favorite book on wilderness skills, “because it focuses on living in the wild. There are excellent illustrations and it is really interesting.” His other Outdoor Life Survival Manual includes natural disasters, wilderness skills, and urban dangers. Gregory hopes never to have to face urban dangers. He doesn’t even like driving through the city (no air! no space!)

The Boys’ Handy Book is a boy scout manual from the turn of the century -early 1900’s, that is- and has lots of illustrations of skills that are largely forgotten now. Gregory doesn’t like it for only one reason: some things are hard to source nowadays.

 My parent’s gave the Scout’s Outdoor Cookbook for a birthday, along with a cast-iron Dutch oven.  “It’s nice because the recipes are formulated for cooking over a campfire, so it makes it easier than trying to adapt a regular recipe.” Our favorite so far was a campfire cobbler. To be honest, though, most of the things they cook over fires are bannock type breads, or rice with seasonings, or maybe potatoes cooked in the coals.

Usborne has a few good sources that I found on Amazon: True Stories of Survival, Survival (written in typical Usborne style with short, readable paragraphs and lots of good illustrations… my personal favorite), and a comic-book styled one titled Improve Your Survival Skills.

A lot of this excitement about learning survival skills comes from reading storybooks. Top of the top for us is Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. It has all the elements of a toe curling gripper for boys: a raw greenhorn, alone in the wilderness with only a hatchet to help him after he survived the plane crash.

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The Cay is another classic tale of adventure at sea. Theodore Taylor has a gentle way of bringing huge topics such as racism and terrible loss into the story. My Side of the Mountain tells the story of a slightly bratty boy who discovers how wonderful his life really is when he takes off to try to live entirely off the land. 

Of course, all of the Ralph Moody books are great, especially for young teens. We have been accumulating them on audio, although I should caution that they contain some strong language.

I try to look ahead in faith for the next generation, but I feel in my gut that there are hard times ahead, possibly involving finding starchy roots to eat, or building fish traps for supplemental protein. But especially there will be trials of the soul. With this in mind, we have been buying more mature biographies and memoirs for our older children. Here are a few for older boys that tell a true story of survival, accompanied by many life lessons. All describe men who toiled through incredible hardships and came out stronger.

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Last, but not least, there is Evidence Not Seen, the story of very courageous woman who survived Japanese camps during World War II. It is our current read-aloud and I know I will need to edit some of the heaviest passages for the sake of the younger children, but I consider it on the same level as the books above.

That’s our list of favorite survival books, for your perusal. If you have any recommendations, we would love to hear them!

 

a Slightly Imperfect Day in the Life…

The day started with my husband’s alarm, due to his having an early shift. When we do get up at the same time, I enjoy the novelty of fixing the bed right away. 😀  I went through my coffee bean grinding ritual and this morning it was still early enough that the noise didn’t wake the girls. A quick sweep through the fridge and I had his lunch packed. The children wandered out of bedrooms, one by one. While they ate breakfast, I read them the conclusion of our most recent read-aloud, Sophie’s Tomby Dick King-Smith. It is a short story about a 6 year-old aspiring lady farmer, but it is written so masterfully that the older children and I enjoyed it just as much as Addy did. (Even though Sophie probably needed a spanking.)

After the dishes were cleared, the girls and I did a Bible lesson at the table, all together. I have been meaning to do this all year, using Route 66: A Trip Through the 66 Books of the Bible.  Somehow we only just got started. This is a course for middle schoolers with simpler text and an overview of who wrote the books of the Bible, key passages in each book, etc. Gregory will be working through Route 66: Travel Through the Bible, a course I myself did a number of years ago. I ordered it for him when I realized that the girls’ course is a little too simple for an 8th grader. The concepts in this study guide are not difficult or even especially theological, with the focus being more on the historical aspects of the books of the Bible.

When we got that cleared away, it was already 9:30 and high time to hit the arithmetic lessons. I dictated spelling words, found fact sheets, cleaned up the schoolroom floor, took a few minutes out to cast some burdens on Jesus, documented some pottery glaze tests, showed Olivia how to make a sentence outline, compounded interest with Gregory, and then it was lunch time.

If you ever want to know what homeschoolers eat… well, today was an inglorious one with fried bologna sandwiches for lunch. Fast, easy, cheap. Hmm. Sounds about right.

After dishes clean-up, I set the little girls loose to go play in the glorious 55 degree sunshine. They were not done with their assignments, but I figured they would be back inside in plenty of time to do them. Meanwhile Olivia and I worked in three loads of laundry and I packaged some pottery orders. Then there was a run to the post office and the bank. We live in rural hick-town, but we only have a mile to those two establishments, which is a great blessing. Last year a local chocolatier built a factory/warehouse just 1/4 mile from our place and I very nearly swung in today to check if they have any seconds or an outlet store in the building. Then I thought that might seem a little desperate, what with no signs or anything indicating a store. I did go to Fisher’s, our favorite local bulk food store, where I bought milk and lunchmeat because we nearly finished the bologna today. Haha. I was pleasantly surprised to find a book-selling gentleman set up in their empty greenhouse. A quick scan of his shelves revealed one of David McCullough’s books, 1776He is probably our favorite history writer, so of course, I needed to give it a home.

The little girls were still out playing Heidi with the goats, wearing only short sleeved shirts and their rubber boots, it was that warm. Oh well, school assignments would wait a little longer.

The day was creeping along, clouds covering the sun, making it urgent for me to get my daily constitutional. I usually walk 2 miles or 30 minutes, whichever comes first. I like to use the time to listen to audiobooks. Today I was in chapter 2 of Ravi Zacharias’  The Grand Weaver. I kept pausing, dictating notes to Google Keep, trying to absorb the soul-stirring truths. I am sure I looked like a weird woman who is nutso about her phone. But seriously, this is a book for every person who has ever grappled with the problem of pain and injustice and why God doesn’t just rescue all His children quickly.

I came home to chop celery and cook chicken noodle for supper. This morning Addy had begged to mix up some brownies “before the mix gets old and yucky” so that was dessert. The little girls were still out chasing ducks when supper was ready. The rest of us ate without them and I am afraid I must admit that we sat in the living room and just read quietly while we ate. Gabriel is working a double shift, so we do these odd things to compensate.

When the goat girls finally showed up, it was getting dark. I ushered them straight to the shower for hair washes and all. They were starved, so there was no quibbling about any of the food. That was when I trotted out their schoolwork that wasn’t finished. Addy’s was just a cursive practice page, but Rita needed to do her Language lesson.

At last all was wrapped up for the day and it was time for bedtime story. I started a new book tonight, The Bushbaby, an out-of-print book I picked up at a library sale. It started out promisingly enough, with the girls begging for more every time I got to the end of a chapter. I have honed the skill of rapid editing if I happen to run up against objectionable content in books I haven’t read before. Sometimes they ask me what I skipped, but if I am smooth enough, they don’t even notice. Only once have I been so awfully wrong about a children’s storybook that I chucked it into the trash before we finished it. We don’t use a reading curriculum in school, so that’s why all the books. It seems to be working out okay.

I thought all was wrapped up for the day, so I took my shower. When I got out, the two littles had set up a restaurant in the kitchen with the only thing on the menu being oranges, because that was all they were allowed to have for a bedtime snack.

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There was sticky juice on the counter, the floor, the table, themselves. I swiped a few swipes with a washcloth and sent them to bed. Tomorrow we’ll work on spelling.

My Suburban Smells Funny

and other tales of August worth.

“May I have an apple in bed?” Addy asked, since she knows that there isn’t much chance of me saying yes to anything that could rot her teeth after she brushed them, and apples are practically toothbrushes anyway. There were no apples in the fridge, so the next up was, “Or how about some pieces of dried chicken?” I was startled out of my absent-minded washing of yesterday’s dishes that had stayed on the counter all day because we got home late last night and went to church this morning. Sure enough, she had found a baggie of very dry chicken bits, saved from our roasting/canning operation of 20 old hens last week. “Maybe a pepper. I could eat a pepper,” she hedged when she saw that I wasn’t excited about her choices. My two little girls make up for any vegetable deficit in the older children. Same parents, same parenting style, only less “now eat your broccoli” fuss, and here they are, regular veggie devourers. It does make you wonder. This is Rita with a legit bedtime snack that makes her just as happy as milk and cookies.

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I wasn’t going to plant regular tomatoes this year because I have a good source where I can buy a couple boxes of Romas and make a big batch of sauce all in one day instead of having them trickle in over the course of a month. When my neighbor gave me plants he had nurtured in his sunny windows, I had to plant them, so I am hauling in a bumper crop all month. The vines are blighted and ugly, and still the babies swell and turn scarlet. It’s astounding! I planted some pineapple tomato plants that are luscious for sandwiches, and shiny purple “Dancing With Smurfs” cherry tomatoes that aren’t good until they turn red, which I think is a little bit of false advertising.

August is all about harvesting and preserving bushels of stuff for winter. Have you ever had tiny, tender green beans that you just picked an hour ago and lightly sauteed with a bit of garlic and olive oil? If you did, then you know why I garden. Or a slice of tomato so huge that it hangs out over your toast, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper? How about crisp cucumbers sliced into a vinaigrette? There is no farmer’s market that can yield that sort of freshness, although it’s better than vegetables shipped across the country, for sure! August turns me into a food snob, because I can. It’s when all the endless hovering and ministering to the plants yields fruit, and does it taste good! So that is what we are currently eating. (Too many melons, a funny problem to have.)

Tomorrow starts our third week of school. Olivia was looking at old pictures and said, “Mama, you used to play more.” It’s true. Somewhere things got too heavy and much. I quit going outside for recess and impromptu soccer games in favor of throwing some laundry into the washer or starting dinner. I am working to change that. We bought some new games and are back to starting each day with a read-aloud before we hit the math books. My Consumer Math guy is still working his summer job, so he is not included in this picture.

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I don’t buy reading curriculum. We just read and read and read. If you ever wonder who really funds the libraries, it’s people like me who suddenly realize that August 23 is past and I have a humongous pile of books overdue. Hey, at least it goes to a good cause. Each year the children also get books as gifts when school starts and again when we celebrate our finish. I buy them second hand, at library sales, on Thriftbooks, or Ollies. Making sure my children love to read is the ace up my sleeve for success in education.

Last week we finished Kate Seredy’s The White Staga fascinating tale of the Huns in the days when they were sweeping across the world after their ancestor Nimrod died. It’s historical fiction/fantasy, so we did web searches and verified Gregory’s trivia bit about Attila the Hun dying of a nosebleed. The thing about reading aloud is that the children really don’t suspect that they are learning, but I am guessing they will always remember that choice bit.

Addy’s book, Poppy is by one of our favorite authors, Avi. It is the story of a very brave mouse. The book I got for Rita is one of Cynthia Rylant’s stories, Gooseberry Park.  It has been a great success because Rita is not an avid reader yet, and she says this is the best book ever. I personally have not found a Cynthia Rylant book I didn’t like. Of course, there are over a hundred of them, and I haven’t read them all. Olivia reads all the time, and fast. Thimble Summer didn’t last more then a few days before she was whining about not having anything to read. We agree that Elizabeth Enright’s stories about Gone Away Lake are actually better than this one, but she is another solid author.

The boys are more into non-fiction. Alex is reading Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff.  I might just mention that the title describes the appeal of the book for him. I stood in Barnes and Noble, staring at the $25 price tag, then I looked up a used copy without a dust jacket on the web for 3.99 and left the store empty handed because I am cheap like that. Gregory received a copy of Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage He and I shared story grip on this book and had to keep swapping out turns to read it. Then we discovered all the youtube videos about Shackleton and were astonished anew. We are also working our way through the New Testament during the summer months. Our favorite way to do this is listening to Max McLean on audioBible. And that is what we are currently reading.

The animal population here on the farmlet thinned out briefly. We sold Lamb, who was now big enough for Mutton. Rita worked her charm on him and got him into a pet carrier for the ride to join a herd of other sheep going to market that day.

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We also hauled 20 chickens to the chop. They were old and no longer laying eggs except on good days, when they felt like it, if the light was mellow and the grain fine. I was grateful I didn’t have to butcher them; all I did was roast them, pick the meat from the bones for canning, and then make bone broth. I feel quite happily fortified for soups and stews this winter. Yes to collegen! No to leaky gut! (I just googled that.) We also sold a bunch of fat leetle rabbits, which makes me feel like my name should be Mrs. McGregor, because I know they get eaten, but at least not by me. I thought it was a good thing, emptying a few of the gobbling horde out of the barn, but my husband came home from the salebarn with a flock of ducks and my son bought different rabbits and more chickens.

My mom used to say I shouldn’t get married until I could butcher a chicken and bake a pie. I couldn’t do either when we set up housekeeping, but it seems to have worked out all right. I can bake a pie now, but I have to admit to a secret feeling that someone should commend me every time I do. “Come on,” I chide myself. “You’re a forty-something Mennonite housewife. You’re supposed to be able to bake a pie.” Here’s a really good thing to do with peaches, super easy, super un-fussy, without a ton of prep and dishes.

  • Buy or make a pie shell, with enough pastry to put a lid on it.
  • Peel peaches until you have 4-5 cups of slices.
  • Gently toss them with 1/2 cup sugar, 1 T lemon juice, 4 T minute tapioca.
  • Pour the peaches into the pie shell and top with pastry.
  • Seal the edges, cut a few decorative slits in the top, give it a wash with milk and then dust with sugar for a pretty sparkle.
  • Bake at 350 for 45 minutes

The tapioca does all the work of thickening the juices and holding the peach slices together when you cut the pie. It tastes fresher than cooked peach filling because it wasn’t cooked, obviously, until it went into the oven. Mom had minute tapioca variations for apple pies (2T tapioca and some cinnamon) and other fruits too. We children loved these the best of all the pies she made and that was a lot!

In my spare time, hahaha…. goes off in fits of giggles…

When I have some minutes or an hour, I play with clay. Since I have a kiln, I find my mind constantly veering toward what I could make next. My first firing was full of wobbly pieces that took me 6 months to accumulate. When I saw how the glazes made even lowly pinch pots pretty, I got down to it and filled the kiln again in a month. I had a few big bowls that made my heart sing proudly, but then I had some issues with firing too hot, too quickly and the moisture in the bowls shattered them into thousands of worthless shards. This sight was what greeted my eyes when I opened the lid. I learned a valuable lesson about patience in letting my pieces thoroughly dry out before doing the first firing, as well as double checking the switches when I turn on the kiln.

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This shattered mess happened the morning before I went to the funeral of a dear family friend, the person who actually first introduced me to a love of pottery. It felt like an underscoring of the sadness of losing Karen.

Thankfully most of the pieces were fine, but they were all small bowls and mugs. The next kiln load only took 2 weeks to fill. I must be getting better! Sometimes I watch potters on Instagram and see that they could easily throw enough pieces in a day to fill what looks to me like a cavernous kiln. Then I don’t know whether to power on or laugh at my struggle, so I do both. That would be the current events on the creative stage.

What I haven’t been doing is writing, and this bothers me. I feel the urge to not forget all this wonderful mix of stories in the mad whirl that is August, which is really too much and just right. One steamy day I got into the Suburban to run errands and was greeted by a rush of super-concentrated air. It was the weirdest blend, like dirty socks (there actually were some under the seat) and fishing tackle mingled with wool and a cloying overtone that I couldn’t place, like very ripe peaches. “Oh, that’s Rita’s air-freshener. She put clove oil on a tissue to smell good.” That’s August in a nutshell here.

My letterboard pep talk to myself goes like this:

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Parting shot: I like my Gregory’s pinch pot better than most of my attempts at symmetry, but I do really like this mug. I get a lot more than coffee out of it. It feels exactly like a smooth egg in my hands, and try as I might, I haven’t been able to make another just like it. Yet.

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An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: Book Review

I drew a total blank on which book to review today, until I remembered an audio that we listened to this winter. I asked Gregory to fill me in on the details of the audiobook. My brain, being typically crowded with details, latched on to the big ideas but I was vague on the details. Some of this is because I usually do some work while we listen to audios. The children just sit (quiet time, anyone?) but now that Gregory has filled me in, I am thinking I should have quiet time with them. When I used an Audible credit for An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield, everybody moaned and thought it looked boring, but it wasn’t long until the silence descended that means an absorbing story is being narrated.

This isn’t a typical memoir, with a baby being born, and what happened next and next. It is more a memoir grouped around life lessons. Mr. Hadfield, who is Canadian, recounts stories from childhood right along with lessons he learned in his rigorous training. The tales of life in Russia, training with cosmonauts for the ISS are fascinating, as well as the stories about living in space and coming down to Earth again.

Here are the highlights my son helped me to remember.

  • Most of life is ordinary hard work. The months in space took a lifetime of training and discipline.
  • Being willing to be a zero is very important. If you try and try to be viewed as a plus 1, people will think you are a show-off. If you really are a plus-1, they will know it. You don’t have to tell them.
  •  A zero is helpful, willing to do the tasks that nobody wants to do. Good leaders are willing to be zeros. If you aim to be a zero, you will most likely soon be viewed as a plus-1.
  • The best way to neutralize your fears is to face them. It isn’t good to just ignore your fears. There is a reason for fear, otherwise you wouldn’t be alive. Prepare for the things you fear; if you are trained for the things that could possibly happen, you will know what to do if it comes to pass.
  • If your biggest dreams are not fulfilled, as in the case of an astronaut who trains for years and is not chosen for space flight, you do not have to be known as “the person who almost went to space.” You can decide not to mope and be a victim of your circumstances. You do not have to be defined by your losses and mistakes.

That is just a sampling of down-to-earth (get it?) advice, seasoned by life experiences that few of us will ever have, yet it is easy to relate to what the author is saying. He writes (and narrates) humbly.

I love memoir as a genre, but often there are adult themes that are not safe for little ears. This is one that is clean, without bad language, just wholesome. I think you would like it.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Today’s book review is one for the children, but I can assure you that adult readers will enjoy it as well. We read it aloud in the evenings. It was one of those books where you “could hear a pin drop” and brought up a lot of good conversations with our children. I often feel unsure how to impress on them that they are in a very privileged class of people: stable home, meals 3 times a day, their longings and desires taken into consideration when the adults in their lives make decisions, choices- so many choices which are really luxuries. This is the sort of book that helps them to understand this in a way that is not preachy at all, although it does include starving children in Africa. I personally liked the bits that described the utter happiness of a child who didn’t have toys, so he made toys, who didn’t feel a lack of stuff nearly as keenly as the loss of friends.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is William Kamkwamba’s personal story of a childhood in Malawi as the son of a farmer. William describes the games the children play all across Africa, weaving in stories of the folklore and some of the darkness that is so prevalent in the superstitions of the simple people. He feared the magic of the witchdoctors, screaming, a terrified small boy in the night, until his father told him that with God on his side the dark powers of the wizard could not harm him. William’s family was doing all right until a terrible drought hit their entire region and wiped out any buffer they had for survival. The misery and desperation of the food shortage was so widespread, it was hard for anyone to outrun it.

William had to drop out of school because of an inability to pay the fees, but he did not waste his time. With a remarkable degree of determination, he found a loophole into getting books out of the library, teaching himself how to read and make sense of the English language science books in particular. He scrounged endlessly on junk piles for parts for his many inventions. Each one became more sophisticated, closer to his dream of generating electricity, of pumping water out of wells right in the village.

We savored the triumph with William as he described how it felt to be no longer the “crazy boy” when he got his first windmill to produce enough electricity to light a 40 watt bulb.

This is a good book for young tinker-scientist boys. (Mine don’t like the “mad scientist” label, but they do tinker like mad. :D)

You get two for one today. I have a recommendation that pairs well with this book: A Long Walk to Water.  For eleven dollars, you can buy the two together, and watch your children’s minds open up in admiration for the resourcefulness of someone they cannot just dismiss as some poor soul in some forsaken country. Teach them compassion for the tremendous obstacles that so many others face with no greater difference than the geographical region of their birth. If you aren’t a book collector, ask your children’s librarian to get them for the shelves. These are books that all American children should read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One more bonus: You can watch William Kamkwamba’s TED talk for yourself.

Book Review: The Clouds Ye So Much Dread

I preordered this book when I got the email from Canon Press announcing a publishing date. At the time, I was fed-up with privileged “God is good” gushiness. You know, the kind  involving beautiful coffees, new cars, house remodels, dreamy vacations, and perfect children. (#blessed.) I understand that many of these #blessings are sincerely expressed from #grateful hearts. The trouble comes when we measure God’s goodness by the blessings. In my own desert place where things were not so well watered, I needed more than a great latte (although that helps) to reassure me that God is good.

The Clouds Ye So Much Dread,  highlights God’s faithful presence through the crises of life, when we are not doing well or feeling especially blessed. Yes, life doles out some really nasty stuff, and no, our prayers are not always answered the way we wish. Where can a person be safe and secure? Where can we fly in the helplessness and lack of control over the details in our lives?

There’s a chapter on fears and one on fear mongering – the unknown, our inadequacies, the obvious perils, as well as the things that come winging out of nowhere. There are a lot of references to the author’s son who battled childhood leukemia. She shares how she started seeing the clouds and the landscapes while she was driving her son to his oncology appointments, stopping to photograph and notice details during this stressful time in her life. “If there’s one thing that a period of testing can do for us, it’s to make us feel the weight of glory in all the things we once brushed off so lightly.”

Mrs. Greiser also addresses the fact that we must face our mortality and humanity- that most of life will not be amazing and “instagrammable”, that becoming entangled in food guilt, lifestyle snobbery, hoarding stuff, etc… really, these are not worries to waste inordinate amounts of energy on.

When we immerse ourselves in the fact of the Father’s faithfulness, when we remember His promises to the sparrows and the lilies, when we refuse to give in to the insidious lies that He has forgotten because “this” happened to me… that is when we start to see the mercies that come out of those clouds we dreaded so much.

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

“When God calls us to duties as sacrifices, or trials like cancer, that turn our paths away from the goals we had set for ourselves, it’s easy to fear that our gifts are simply being wasted. When we follow God’s call and not our own, have we truly wasted our potential- throwing it out like trash? Or have we laid it down and planted it where our heavenly Father will raise and transform it into glorious resurrection fruit?”

“Why is it so easy to forget how great God’s kindness is to His children? For us who know Him, it’s almost always a failure of memory that has led to a failure of nerve.”

And here’s the grand old hymn by William Cowper:

Strangers and Sojourners

Michael O’Brien’s Strangers and Sojourners spans the lifetime of a lady named Anne Delaney during the twentieth century. As you might expect, it is a long book, a tome of 546 pages, but it was well worth the time to read, even though it took me a few months to finish.

The story is built around Anne’s emigration from a highly educated, refined life in England to live as a frontier schoolteacher in a bush town in Canada. She eventually marries a reclusive backwoodsman farmer, a man of deep faith, while Anne battles intensely with doubt and self-recrimination. She faces the narrowing of her abilities into one small sphere, keeping her home. She senses the death of her personal grandiose dreams as she cooks the porridge and weeds the kitchen garden. Her children grow strong and stand upright, mostly unaware of the lifeblood their mother is pouring out for them. Her husband remains a bit of an enigma to her, a man who has great respect for dung and dirt, “Out of it comes the garden and the pasture and our lives.” But Anne hates it and the fact that their life is far from clean and neat. She wishes only to be able to cleanse away every trace of repulsive stink, despite the gentle reminder that Jesus was born where the smells were not polite.

Eventually Anne does get to pursue some of her dreams, among them editing a provincial newspaper. She continues to be haunted with questions as to the meaning of life and all man’s striving. Toward the end of her own life, when cancer is eating away at her vitals, it all narrows down to what really mattered all along. At death’s door, Anne receives clarity and grace. The struggle and fear are replaced with triumphant courage. She sees that God was at work all along, making something out of her nothing. As her husband sits beside her bed, watching her life drain slowly away, he sees…

“…that she had already laid down a large portion of her life long ago. Piece by piece she had given it away as she wrestled with existence, as her self was absorbed as nourishment into his life and the life of the children and the community. And laid down most piercingly, as she abandoned, one by one, the shapes of the dreams she had planned. Only to take them up in other forms.”

(excerpt from page 546)

O’Brien wrote this book in the third person omniscient point of view, giving us details from the heart of each main character, their thoughts and intents. While this can be tedious, he does it well, illustrating how attitudes and actions can affect an entire life, an entire family, even an entire community. I was inspired by Anne’s life, encouraged that the things I do today are long term investments. Though they may be small things, such as deboning a chicken or folding some towels, the world is nurtured through the countless small kindnesses of those who are willing to lay down their lives for others.

Move Over, October

Although it doesn’t feel necessary at all yet, we are battening down the hatches here despite the August-like feel in the middle of the days. In landlocked, rural PA, that means clearing out the gardens, planting garlic, digging sweet potatoes, maybe nurturing some lettuce in homemade cold frames.  The pigs have been set to plowing the garden, where they clearly enjoy their privileges among the dried bean stalks and tired zinnias. The black pig, Petunia, is supposed to “piggle” as we jokingly call it, but she just doesn’t have babies. I am thinking she is even looking slimmer recently, so who knows? Maybe her relationship with Brutus is platonic.

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The zinnia blooms that persist are still a-flit with monarch butterflies that should be hurrying south. We all feel a little confused by fall this year. There is no color. It’s still green here, folks. The leaves that have dropped are tan, brown, or speckled with a tinge of orange, but no brilliance. It’s an odd result of a very wet summer/abundant chlorophyll and unseasonably warm temperatures, the experts say.

This fall for the first time ever we wound our way through a corn maze, shot small pumpkins with a sling-shot, played corn hole and pumpkin checkers, and had fun in general.

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I feel the urge to clear out all the spider webs in my house, but it is a futile effort because the spiders keep diligently moving in. They aren’t fooled by unseasonable warmth. Also the stink bugs– I don’t even know if they have another more formal name, but they don’t deserve it if they do. I vacuumed 17 of them off my bedroom curtain one day. They seemed surprised and emanated their cilantro stench so strongly I smelled them every time I vacuumed for a long time afterward.

The vacuum cleaner smells like moth ball crystals at the moment. “What’s that sweet stink?” Rita asked. Upon investigation, I found that someone had spilled them in the closet after they did their sweet-stink duty in keeping yellow jackets away from our applesauce production out on the deck.

We live in deep apple territory. It’s amazing! We go to the orchard and walk along the apple crates on the porch, sometimes with as many as ten varieties of irregulars that are so cheap you can’t let them there. Then I remember what a friend who lived in the orchards said about the sprays, so I soak the apples in a white vinegar/water solution before cooking them. Whether this actually works to remove all the pesticides is open to debate, but it makes me feel better. I did the math this year to see if applesauce making is worth the effort. At Aldi, a pint of applesauce was 1.29. That’s 2.60 per quart. We did 55 quarts this fall. That’s $143 at Aldi. The apples cost us $45. Okay, so we saved $100 with just four hours of mildly strenuous effort. Even with overhead costs, a concept I just explained to Gregory this morning in his math lesson, I know it’s worth making applesauce. Also it counts as a school day, so we’re definitely in the clear here.

I am waiting for the Granny Smiths to be picked so that I can make real apple dumplings. Have you ever had them? The combination of mouth-puckering sour with flaky pastry and buttery syrup? Ohh, I sigh with delight at the thought. Once, and only once, I used whole wheat pie and pastry flour to healthify them. It was a fail that I will not repeat. If you need to healthify your apples, just eat them raw.

The boys have been working on painting the barn doors, which ended being constructed of raw wood after someone stole a pile of weathered red siding boards that would have become doors. The boys have also been making it their mission to get rid of the rats that have moved into the barn. (Shut your ears if you are squeamish.) Gregory has a string stretched between two small trees where he hangs his trophies by the tail. The count is holding at three, but there is a really big one they call Templeton that defies all their ingenious traps and steals the corn anyway.

In other news, we just finished our first quarter of school. Shew! One day at a time, they say, and they are right. The days pile up like sand in an hour glass and one day they will be all filtered through and we will understand percentages and fractions and phonics rules and it will be spring!

Gabriel is now exactly 6/11 of the way to his bachelor’s degree. He perseveres on through much trudging and some very boring assignments, to my way of thinking.

Our read-aloud book at the moment is Girl From Yamhill, Beverly Cleary’s memoir which was printed at least 20 years ago, but has seen a renewed circulation since she celebrated her 100th birthday. We love Beverly Cleary with her Klickitat Street, Henry and Ribsy, Beezus and Ramona, and a host of other unforgettable characters. The book is written about her childhood with an adult viewpoint, so there are occasional passages I edit for my small children’s sake. Our favorite line so far is her description of fourth grade: “one long quest to find the lowest common denominator.”

There isn’t a good way to conclude this kind of post, so I leave you with Addy’s Quote of the Day, after she was reprimanded by a sibling for her loud singing in the car.

“When I grow up, I am going to hum for people. For a living.”

 

Quite Likely Events

I am a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. They are such fascinating studies of human behaviors, what makes people tick when they are not even aware of it, how trends take hold, why the small people sometimes inexplicably roust the huge ones, etc.

These are the ones I have read or listened to:




I know some people hate his studies. They think he oversimplifies things, puts them into neat boxes when there really are no boxes. But there are! There are categories and predictable behaviors, but there are also boxes for the totally unexpected, and those are the best ones of all.  I like this quote:  The point isn’t necessarily to accept his conclusions, but to be jolted – even if via the improbable medium of ketchup – into seeing the whole world afresh. This galls some critics, who’d prefer it if Gladwell made smaller, more cautious, less dazzling claims.

We listened to Gladwell’s Ted talk on David and Goliath this summer, and you should too. If you don’t agree with his ideas, at least it will take your mind for a little spin of possibilities. The entire book is comprised of anecdotal evidence that giants are not as powerful as they seem. The chapter on how difficult it is to parent well when you are rich was quite affirming. Studies have shown that over 75K in annual income will make it significantly harder to raise well-adjusted children than when your income falls in a lower bracket. Whew! At least we are safe on that score!

My favorite is still The Tipping Point, probably because of my fascination with people’s behavior. When I got to spend a day at the Mother Earth News Fair, I had just as much fun watching people as I did checking out the vendors and listening to the keynote speakers. That is where I saw the impeccably flawless lady who seemed to be having a bad day. Remember her from my last post? I didn’t actually interview her, so I cannot know for sure why she was giving her husband such sour looks.

Maybe she had a sore in her mouth that was causing her to see the world as grey and hopeless and even drinking water hurt. She couldn’t eat any pretzel if she wanted to. (Ouch! the salt!)

Maybe her favorite granddaughter had just dropped out of med school in favor of joining a band of farmers living communally off the soil in the hinterlands, and she came to the fair to try to understand what her granddaughter was thinking!

Maybe her husband had an autoimmune disease that caused him agonies every time he ate gluten, and she knew he would be moaning to her all evening after he ate that pretzel.

Maybe he wasn’t even her husband, just some nettlesome guy who knew her back in highschool and still thought she was pretty.

Okay, that is getting a little far out, but you really never do know and it is just a smidge arrogant to assume that the other person’s behavior is uncomplicated. I still lean toward my first impression that she was just being catty.  At any rate, it’s interesting, which is why I suggest you give the Gladwell books a try. Check them out at the library if you feel doubtful. Tell me what you think. 🙂

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