Bookshelf – Ex Libris

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This book came from the summer reading list recommended on a blog.  The problem is, I can’t remember if it came from Simple Mom or Modern Mrs. Darcy. Oh, well.

I think a more apt title for this book would be Confessions of a Compulsive Reader or Confessions of a Constant ReaderIt is a series of essays written by a writer about reading.  Say that ten times fast.  I found them humorous and the writing style engaging.

The writer grew up in a home of readers and writers.  Her parents were both published writers.  They had thousands of books, thousands.  Her essays are both touching and informative.  That really doesn’t sound right.  Who wants to read informative in the summer?  I’m sure Ms. Fadiman could come up with a better description.

One essay I found particularly interesting was about a book her mother had handed down to her written in 1877 by a “Father” – presumably unmarried – entitled The Mirror of True Womanhood.  After reading this book, she came up with a ten point scale and asked her husband to rate her.  Just for fun, I did the same.  Here’s how I stacked up (Glory! He’s going to be irritated I shared this):

Discretion – 10

Discipline – 9

Religious Fervor – 7 (that’s better than the author, she scored a zero)

Power to soothe and charm – 7

Truthfulness – 10

Thrift – 7

Avoidance of impure literature, engravings, paintings, and statuary – 10

Kindness – 10

Cheerfulness – 6 (ouch!)

Order in the Home – 7 (he likes sevens)

Abjuration of fashion – 6

Self-control – 7

Excellence in needlework – 11

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman is not a hard read.  You can read an essay and put it down, all splayed open if you’d like (you’ll have to read it to understand that reference) and pick it up later when you have another few free minutes.

A quote on the front reads, “A terrifically entertaining collection of personal essays about books…Heartening, tender, wise and hilarious”.  This oversells it, in my opinion.  It is entertaining and has tender moments when she talks about her dad and his loss of sight.  But wise and hilarious?  Not exactly.  I did chuckle as I read through the essays, but “hilarious” suggests peeing my pants funny and it’s just not.

Worth a look if you come across it in a library, but not a book I would tell you to spend money on…unless you were a writer yourself and would find the essays pee your pants funny.

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Little White Lies

I told a lie yesterday**.  A little one.  One that will never be uncovered, one of little consequence.

Or so I tell myself.

I find I am quite adept at lying.  This realization hits me hard.  I have no problem with lying to preserve my “status quo”.  I wonder how I got here.  Maybe lying to myself for so many years has something to do with it.  Maybe it comes with the territory of always answering “fine” when things are not fine.  I don’t think people want my truth.  I tell myself that the lie I told yesterday was told so as not to hurt this person’s feelings.  Even as I told it, I knew it was a lie.  But I continued anyway.  The consequences have been my own.  A struggle of conscience that reveals my tendency to lie.

God hates a lying tongue.  Ouch.

Is there ever a good reason to lie?  Didn’t Rahab lie about the spies?  Didn’t the midwives lie about the Jewish boys?  Weren’t they rewarded for their protection?  But, their protection began with lies??  Is lying to not hurt someone’s feelings okay?  Somehow I think it’s not.  I suppose Rahab and those midwives had to answer for their sin, and so will I.  I will have to answer for that little lie, a little typed lie in the digital age.

How many lies do I consciously and unconsciously tell in a day?  I’m going to examine my lying tongue and (hopefully) turn from it.  I am not optimistic. It will be hard to tell the truth, especially when it has consequences for me or hurts others.  I do not want to be someone who preserves peace with lies.  There is no such peace.

**If I spoke with you yesterday in person or via phone, text, email etc., I (hopefully) did not lie to you.  This blog post was composed several weeks ago.**

Bookshelf – What Alice Forgot

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“Am I the type of person who needs to make a point now” – Alice.

What kind of person will you be in ten years?  How will life change you?

Short synopsis:  Alice is at her weekly spin class (I had to look that up).  Alice falls, hits her head and is unconscious for about 10 minutes.  Alice wakes up ten years younger, pregnant for the first time and passionately in love with her husband.  She forgot she’s almost 40.  She forgot she has three children.  She forgot she’s getting divorced.

The novel begins with her waking up after her fall and goes through that next week or so as she tries to remember everything about her life.  How do you forget your children?  What do you do when you’ve forgotten them?  How do you forget your life?  Alice realizes she has become a very distasteful person.  She has become someone she does not recognize and she does not like this person who has taken up residence in her body.

I won’t give anything away because it is the type of book you want to be caught up in and float along with it.  It is told from three perspectives: in third person narration of Alice, from journal entries written by her sister to her sister’s shrink, and in letters written by her granny to Phil.  I thought the jumping around would annoy and confuse me, and it did for a while; then I realized that was the point!!  Alice was confused and the puzzles didn’t fall together easily or quickly for her, so why should they for me?

More than a fun story to read, it gives perspective on our own lives and how we live each day and how we allow our circumstances or the people in our lives to change us.  Sometimes this change is good and sometimes we become a person we never thought we would be.

I highly recommend this book despite the fact it is also recommended by Oprah.

How to be a better Listener

We’ve been working on listening with our son.  He likes to talk.  A lot.  His mouth is running constantly.  We have to physically make him be still and make eye contact before we give instruction.  I can say something seven times and know he didn’t hear me.  Then, when I finally raise my voice, he gets offended that I did so.  Geesh!  

While working with him, I’ve made a few observations about listening.  I’m sure there is nothing new here, except possibly a reminder you I need.

1.  Stop what you are doing (checking your phone, cooking, cleaning, writing, staring into space)

2.  Look the person talking in the eyesthis is important.  I have trouble making eye contact.  I don’t know why, so I’m making more of an effort.  If I’m going to require it of my 6 year old, I better practice it myself.  You know, the goose/gander thing.

3.  Don’t begin formulating a response before they’ve finished speakingthis is hard but if you don’t hear them out, even if they take an incredibly long time to say something, you deprive them of the opportunity to express themselves.

4.  Repeat back to them what you heard them sayWe all know this, but how many of us practice it? For some reason, what comes out of one person’s mouth goes through some sort of invisible filter and I hear it completely differently.  Remember the old telephone game?  How many times did we play that as kids and we still don’t get the point of that object lesson.

5.  Respect their opinion, if they gave one We have lost civility in our society.  I see it all the time at the shops, online, in emails and texts.  We want free speech, as long as it’s our speech that’s free.

6.  Breathe and think! – for as long as it takes.

7.  Respond in an appropriate way.  Here’s the kicker.  We can’t know the appropriate way to respond unless we listen.  We don’t always have to have answers or responses.  Sometimes the listening is most important of all.

8.  Silence is okayWe are afraid of silence today.  Practicing silence helps us listen.  It’s actually a mutually beneficial relationship.  Silence allows listening, listening allows contemplation and contemplation requires silence.

Not only do I hope to train our son to be a better listener, I hope to train myself.  I talk too much.  I share opinions too easily.  I’m learning to be more quiet.  Not “silent treatment” quiet, but contemplative quiet.  Mind you, I have not even come close to mastery of this skill, but baby steps…

How about you?  What helps you listen most effectively?

Bookshelf – French Kids Eat Everything

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I really don’t know what made me purchase this book.  I’ve always been fascinated with people who pick up and go live in another culture.  Truthfully, I’m envious of them.  This book tells several intertwined stories.  The story of their move, the struggle for the author to fit in (her husband is French), the story of their children’s adaptability to French culture, and the story of the French people’s relationship with food and why they have this relationship.

I don’t think I’m giving any spoilers away by listing the 10 French Food Rules.  For me, some of these were no brainers and others were new and I’ve begun to incorporate them into our lives.  I don’t think we could actually eat “French” here in the states, but we can make small changes that make sense and create a healthier view of food.

French Food Rules as compiled by Karen de Billon after her year in France:

#1 – Parents – YOU are in charge of Food Education!

#2 – Avoid emotional eating – NO food rewards, bribes, etc.  (hard)

#3 – Parents schedule meals & menus ~ KIDS EAT WHAT ADULTS EAT! ~ No short-order cooking!

#4 – Eat family meals together – no distractions

#5 – EAT YOUR VEGGIES (key: think variety)

#6 – You don’t have to LIKE it, but you do have to TASTE it (say at every meal)

#7 – NO SNACKING!! (It’s okay to feel hungry between meals)

#8 – SLOW FOOD is happy food, as in eat slow!

#9 – eat mostly REAL FOOD

#10 – Remember: eating is joyful – RELAX!

If anything, this book helped me to see that we really don’t take the time to enjoy our food in North America.  The average kid in school has about 20 minutes, maximum for lunch.  In France, they schedule one and a half hours!  This probably sounds extreme and maybe it is, but I’m sure a balance between the two could be found.

She has a section at the back of tips and tricks and what has worked for them since coming back to North America.  She also shares some recipes which I’ve yet to try, but plan to do so in the near future.  Here are two I’m most interested in trying:

Gratin de chou-fleur (Cauliflower Casserole)

Preparation: 10 minutes

Baking: 10 minutes

Servings: 4 adult servings

1 cauliflower, chopped in bite-size pieces

4 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Optional: salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon

1. Put a pot of water to boil on the stove, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and butter a medium casserole dish.

2. Meanwhile, chop the cauliflower into bite-size pieces.  Add it to pot when water is at a rolling boil.  Reduce the heat slightly and cook for 5 minutes while making the white sauce.

3. To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a medium pot over medium heat.  Sprinkle in the flour, stir well (until flour is absorbed), raise the heat to high, and stir for 30 seconds.  Add the milk and stir constantly until the mixture has thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Stir in salt, pepper, and nutmeg or cinnamon (if desired). Set aside.

4. To make the topping,  mix the bread crumbs and Parmesan in a small bowl.

5. To make the gratin, drain the cauliflower (which will be soft but not floppy) and place it in the dish.  Pour the white sauce on top, sprinkle with bread-crumb mixture, and bake for 10 minutes, or until the top is golden-brown and crunchy.

Mousse au chocolat (Chocolate Mousse)

Preparation: 10 to 15 minutes

Waiting: 2 to 3 hours

Cooking: None

Servings: 6

1/2 pound semi-sweet Baker’s chocolate

4 teaspoons butter

6 eggs, whites and yolks separated

Zest of half an orange

Pinch of salt

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.  Allow the chocolate to cool!!  Otherwise you risk cooking the eggs.  When chocolate is melted, but not too hot, add in the egg yolks and the orange zest, and stir well.

2. In a standing mixer beat the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks (adding a pinch of salt at the start will help them stiffen).

3. Gently fold one half of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.  Mix gently, then fold in the other half, mixing very gently.  Spoon the mousse into little serving dishes and chill for 2 to 3 hours, or until firm.  Serve with berries or crisp little cookies on the side.

I find it’s always good to read a book like this to add a little inspiration to my cooking.

Bon Appetit!

On Bible Reading

My daughter tells me that Genesis is the most read book of the Bible and that it gets read every January.  I’m not likely to disagree with her.  She’s the queen of obscure facts and random….things.

In an effort to get away from being a “Good Girl” (see post here), I’m putting away my Bible reading plans.  A good friend of my husband and I, Jeremy Kingsley, says, “We don’t read the Bible to finish, we read the Bible to change.”  I have this written in the front of my Bible.  I forget it every January, or June or September.  Whenever I feel I “should” start a Bible reading plan.

So, I’ve started reading smack dab in the middle of my Bible – the book of Isaiah.  Yes, I said Isaiah.  I’m taking it slow, trying to glean something from it each day.  If I need to spend a few days on a chapter or even a few verses, I do.  I’m trying to slow down and breathe it in.  It’s supposed to be our very breath, right?  At least that’s what a popular worship song we’ve all sung says that it is.

The older I get the more I realize that Christianity isn’t at all what I thought it was.  Jesus is not at all who I’ve thought he is.  What he feels towards me is not at all what I’ve imagined him to think or feel about me.  I am a beggar at the door of His grace.  I am a ragamuffin.  I’m embracing that term coined so many years ago by Brennan Manning and made famous by Rich Mullins and his ragamuffin band.

What I want to know, really know, is that He loves me.  That’s it.  He loves me.  He loves me.  He loves me.

I hope you know it too.

Bookshelf – Grace for the Good Girl

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Where do I start?  This book is transformational for me.  I guess a little background is necessary.  I was “saved” at the age of 8.  It was a dark and stormy night…no seriously…it was.  There was much thunder and lightning and I was terrified of hell.  I’m not sure how those things connected in my brain but they did.  So, I asked Jesus into my heart in the only way a small child can.  I guess I felt different.  The next morning I remember thinking that I must feel different, so I made myself feel different.  Anyhow, I wasn’t a drug addict, an alcoholic, or promiscuous (heavens!) and it just was sort of what we did.  I grew up in a home where we prayed before every meal (sort of), we went to church every time the doors were open, and I attended the Christian school associated with that church.  Back then it was a very legalistic bunch and my parent bought it hook, line and sinker.  The problem was that church and “Christian” things stayed at church and school.  We didn’t really live our faith, just went through the motions.

I was a good girl.  I had my share of close calls but I stayed out of any major trouble.  I was talking with a friend the other day about looking back and realizing that God was protecting us through times when we could have strayed very far.  But I didn’t.  I dated, married, had sex and then children in the proper order.  We went to church as a married couple and then as a family, but something was always missing.

This book pointed it out so clearly to me, in language that made sense in my good girl brain.  Words that fought their way deep into my psyche through my multiple masks.

Chapters with subtitles such as hiding behind her good performance and hiding behind her fake “fine” and hiding behind her indifference pulled me straight out of my comfort zone and into a place where I could see clearly the depth of my need.  The book is divided into three parts:

Part 1 : the hiding

Part 2: the finding

Part 3: the freedom of being found

I started this book with the idea that I would read a chapter each day and dutifully answer the questions at the end in my journal (good girl expectations, there).  But, about mid-way through God showed up and I realized that I need to digest this book, not just read it, answer the questions and check it off the list.  So, I finished the book without finishing the questions.  I will get to that.  I will go back and read each chapter more slowly, search myself and go deep because there are such gems to be mined in a book like this for a girl like me.

In the meantime, I’m learning that I’m wearing many masks and my masks have layers.  I don’t let others in because I don’t want them to see how flawed I am.  If they happen to see the ugly side of me, I make sure that I don’t get too up close and personal with them again.  Perhaps there’s more of my mom in me than I would like to admit in this area.

If you are like me and don’t have a flashy, lightning from Heaven testimony and you’ve found your spiritual life lacking something, pick up this book.  Maybe it won’t be for you what it is for me – a gorgeous, sparkling dawn of realization and grace, but you will still be blessed.

I’ve tried so hard all my life.  Now it’s time to let go of the try-hard life.

You can find her book at Amazon.  I recommend getting the actual paperback for highlighting and annotating.  You can also read her blog at www.ChattingAtTheSky.com

PS – She has a version for younger women called Graceful which my daughter will be receiving and possibly all my nieces who are on the cusp of womanhood.

Blessings to you & may you be free!  Colossians 3.