Christian, family, homemaking manuals, nonfiction

The Life Giving Home

life giving home book

The Life Giving Home: Creating a Place of becoming and Belonging, by Sally Clarkson and Sarah Clarkson. Originally purchased in 2016. 272 pages.

Books and people which extol ideals and poetically challenge us to reach for them can be good for us, even when attaining those ideals feels impossibly out of our reach. The key to being able to properly appreciate what we’re reading is to be comfortable and settled in to who we are, what we can do, and what our particular life and stage of life requires of us. If we’re not, what is meant to encourage us can cause the reader to feel as if she is failing.

Often before reading a book, and occasionally in the midst of reading it, I read reviews other readers have written about the book. About halfway through The Life Giving Home, I suddenly wanted to know what other readers took away from this book, because the ideal loomed large.

Sally and Sarah Clarkson, the mother and daughter authors of The Life Giving Home did a good job of combining their homemaking ideas, principles, and stories. Using these, they weaved together a tapestry designed to give the reader both a glimpse and a spark of desire to cultivate a “life-giving home”.

There were redundancies and literary hiccups along the way, to be sure. As I read the chapters that Sarah Clarkson authored, I was often reminded of the words of acclaimed author James Baldwin: “You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.” Despite those missteps, I appreciated her insights on the importance of home cultivation even as a single person. A home and hearth which provides peace, restoration and sustenance is important in the life of everyone, regardless of their particular family situation.

“All people need a place where their roots can grow deep and they always feel like they belong and have a loving refuge. And all people need a place that gives wings to their dreams, nurturing possibilities of who they might become.”

The ideals espoused in Sally Clarkson’s chapters were what drew ire and feelings of inadequacy from those readers who didn’t enjoy her book. The temptation is strong to feel defensive in the presence of examples and family stories which seem far above anything we can replicate in our own lives and families. I don’t light candles, neither do we have a fireplace but love, life, laughter and creativity are cultivated in our home in myriads of other ways. Quite recently we had a painting night where we all produced works that are masterpieces to no one but us:

paint night1

paintnight3

In other words, you can build family memories on things other than candles, hearth fires, Celtic music, and poetry reading.

This book is hopeful if far from a perfect one in many respects. I found their idealism refreshing; worthy of emulation. We don’t live in the same geographic region nor do we have the same likes or dislikes as the authors’ family. We do however, engage in meals, family routines, and memories that look different from the Clarksons and that is as it should be. It doesn’t require that we do everything the way Sally and Clay Clarkson did:

“Every day in each inch of space, each rhythm of time, each practice of love, we have the chance to join God in coming home, in living so that we make a home of this broken and beautiful world all over again. Love is enfleshed in the meals we make, the rooms we fill, the spaces in which we live and breathe and have our being.”

The Clarskons do paint a picture of their home life that could invoke feelings of inferiority were I not settled in my own life and in the home we have created for our family. Her children, in whom she expressed  praised and immense pride, could summon worries of personal deficiencies in parents whose children are still finding their way. As I read this book, I was thoroughly convinced that this was not her intent but rather that the authors hoped to inspire a determination to create a home of sanctuary, whatever that entailed for each of us.

The book had a well organized structure, but should have been shorter. After the initial chapter, each chapter correlated to a specific month of year, beginning in January. In each of those either Sally or Sarah offered inspirational ideas that could be implemented in that month, accompanied by stories of family memories.

Some of the ideas and stories felt redundant or reworked from chapter to chapter, which I found bothersome. I only need to hear about the peaceful atmosphere provided by lighting candles a couple of times. I get it. They find lighting a candle a peaceful, affirming addition to the atmosphere of the home. The same things apply to music, fires in the fireplace, and a hot bowl of soup. The repetitiveness of those family rituals were often repeated in a ritualistic way. It would have been better to express the importance of constancy in a less redundant way.

Lastly, the flowery language that Sally Clarkson is known for is just as prevalent in this books as in past books. There are times when I can read and enjoy flowery language, but it’s not something I am always in the mood for. When I’m not in the mood for it, I can barely read more than a chapter of it. I recognize that there are some readers who don’t ever enjoy it, so I feel obliged to include an advisory that this is a flowery book.

Many of the other reviewers of this book felt as if they couldn’t appreciate while they had several young children underfoot, or felt as if  it was some way in condemning to their underwhelming efforts as wives and mothers. That was, in my opinion, an unfortunate reading of the book, even though I understand how a young mother could reach that conclusion. The takeaway is do what we can, in line with our own abilities, resources, and family structure to live a little more intentionally when we consider the atmosphere of our home.

A strong current of encouraging hospitality was also a part of this book. Hospitality is a struggle for many of us in this era, but inviting someone over for coffee and cake is a lot less pressure than a full-on dinner party, which was also a good reminder.

I can’t say I loved this book, but there were sections that I liked a great deal. Unfortunately, there were parts I didn’t like as much. However, it wasn’t because I felt the book offered unrealistic ideals.

2 and 1/2 our of 5 stars.

 

 

 

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Els' Rabbit Trails, family, homeschool, humor

El’s rabbit trails: Kombucha science

I have a very engaging book review in draft. It may even get up later this evening. Meanwhile, it’s been some time since we’ve hopped off on a rabbit trail and my kids and husband produced an entertaining one for me this morning. I figured in the spirit of getting ready for back to school, we’d talk some kombucha science.

A little over a year and a half ago, a friend of mine brought me a SCOBY. I was just getting into the kombucha craze (you know how we chicks love a good bandwagon), so she figured I would enjoy brewing my own. And I did. At first.

However no one else in our house liked the stuff, and the sight of the SCOBY jar was, to quote my husband, “like a science experiment gone bad”. I kept brewing it and kept the SCOBY alive. I even gave one or two away to fellow bandwagon chicks so they could start brewing their own. We talked kombucha. We compared flavors. It was a kombucha paradise.

After a while, as I am prone to do, I grew weary of my growing SCOBY hotel, and my man was not under any circumstances going to allow his kitchen to be overrun with jars of multiple SCOBYs. It was more than enough asking him to look at one or two. Couple that with my tendency to be ever on the lookout for a new bandwagon, and it wasn’t long before my poor SCOBYs went longer and longer periods without fresh tea being added.

Somewhere along the way my man and our two youngest kids developed a taste for the stuff, and my neglected SCOBYs found a savior in my husband’s willingness to make new brews of different flavors. This morning he and the younglings got busy bottling up different flavors, cutting off layers of SCOBY for the fall planting soil, and having an all around good time making several bottles of the stuff:

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Individual flavors of kombucha on their second ferment.

Ever the teacher, it occurred to me that perhaps we should have an impromptu lesson on what a SCOBY is, fermentation, the meaning of symbiosis, and why things work together the way they do to produce the fizzy flavored teas that they enjoy so much.

“Way to suck the fun out, MOM!”

No, no one said that, but their faces said it all.

Culture, family, nonfiction, politics

Folks, this ain’t normal.

folks tthis aint normal book
Folks, this ain’t normal: A farmer’s advice for happier hens, healthier people, and a better world, by Joel Salatin. Published in 2011. 384 pages.

When most modern Americans stop to consider a time when life resembled something normal (juxtaposed against the insanity of today), minds automatically drift toward the 1950s. Although the images that spring to mind are more Hollywood conjuring than anything a majority of Americans can actually remember, the amalgamated images of Ward and June Cleaver combined with Father Knows Best transport us to a time and place where life was simple, normal, and family-oriented.

In Folks This Ain’t Normal, however, Joel Salatin submits that the 1950s were in many ways the acceleration of our culture’s move away from normal life, speeding us like a locomotive to the dysfunction that we are grappling with in post modern America. While his book is without question and indictment of what has become of our food supply and ways of food production which harm our health and our planet, this book is about much more than that. Much the way Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community explores how the tentacles of abnormal economy infect our communities and most intimate relationships, Folks This Ain’t Normal offers something similar using our dysfunctional food system as its starting point.

No doubt you’re wondering how I concluded that the 1950s would be the point in time where the acceleration of abnormal living took root according to Mr. Salatin. I know I’d be wondering how such an idyllic period in American history could be viewed through such a lens. Salatin argues that the first supermarket appeared on the American landscape around 1946:

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”

Using his timetable as a measuring stick, one can conclude that he sees the late 1940s into the 1950s as a watershed period in the way Americans acquired their food. Not everyone agrees with Salatin’s assertion (see here for one example), but whether or not you agree, one thing is for certain: the way we eat, live, work and play in 21st century is not normal when measured against any other time period in human history. Salatin argues quite convincingly that this abnormal way of life is more of regression than any evidence of human progress. That in fact, our approach to food and eating as described here:

“The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else’s responsibility until I’m ready to eat it.”

Has put us all in a position where food security is an issue even for the most affluent among us. We are too detached from the reality of how to acquire and secure food for our families in the event of any hiccup in our current infrastructure:

“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”

To some extent, Salatin oversimplifies his argument because there have always been and will always be people for whom hunger is a reality of life. What he gets correct, however, is that far too many of us are ignorant of the things that make for a normal life and healthy food untainted by substances harmful to the human body, produced in a sustainable way, and ingested in a form as close as possible to the way God made it.

While the food supply is the jumping off point for Salatin’s arguments, he hardly stops there. He points out how the proliferation of plastic is harming our environment, how our cultural aversion to hard work and addiction to screens is further disconnecting us from our humanity, the earth, and each other, and offers his opinion on things we can do on an individual level to change the way we live our lives.

“As a culture, we don’t cook at home. We don’t have a larder. We’re tuned in, plugged in, addicted to electronic gadgetry to the exclusion of a whippoorwill’s midsummer song or a herd of cows lying down contentedly on the leeward side of a slope, indicating a thunderstorm in the offing. Most modern Americans can’t conceive of a time without supermarkets, without refrigeration, stainless steel, plastic, bar codes, potato chips.”

Because Hearth prepared me in her review of this book, I knew the last two chapters of the book were a nice long political rant. It was unnecessary, detracting from the much more entertaining rant on food and post modern life that filled the book up until that point.

There is a lot of farm jargon in the book as well, but I always welcome the opportunity to learn as I read, so I didn’t mind it. If you’re not familiar with farm language, however, be prepared to do some googling for clarification.

One of the things I most appreciated about this book was the fact that this Christian, libertarian leaning author has a clear and unambiguous concern for the environment. People who oppose conservative/religious ideology often assume that those of us on this end of the spectrum don’t care about the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Refusing to worship creation doesn’t necessarily translate into having no concern for it.

Overall, this was worth a read, an encouraging reminder to me to embrace normalcy not only in my approach to food and eating, but every area of life.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Christian, family, nonfiction

The Birth Order Book

birthorder book

The Birth Order Book, Kindle edition, by Dr. Kevin Leman. Original print version published in 1984 with 300 pages.

This book has been on my “to read” list for several years, but I never quite got around to reading it until very recently. One of the reasons I hadn’t been in a rush to read it is because every synopsis I’d ever read had me thoroughly convinced that it was an oversimplification based on squirrely evidence which didn’t take into account all the variables. When I began reading it, I was almost convinced that my initial take was correct.

At the very beginning, for instance, was a quiz indicating various fictional people and their tendencies, and the reader is offered the chance to guess their birth order. The answers were at the end of the book. Right away, doubts about the reliability of Dr. Leman’s exposition arosse.

At 46, and as the youngest of a group who range in age from 62 downward, I’ve always been the opposite of typical youngest child perceptions. Our firstborn didn’t fit into the quiz although she and our last born possess more of the typical birth order characteristics than either my husband or I do. My husband’s birth order -solidly middle with no large age gaps between the five siblings- is the least well matched. He has very strong characteristics typically associated with first borns.

As I continued reading however, Dr. Leman’s valiant effort towards accounting for variables witin the typical paradigms slowly began to soften my initial skepticism about his book. In fact, just as I was about to give up on the book, the first example in the second chapter on birth order variables sucked me in. I was -figuratively, of course- the guy who walked up to Dr. Leman and said, roughly paraphrased:

“I’m the baby of my family. I’m the most responsible. I’m the only one who reads [in Elspeth’s specific case that means anything besides the Bible]. How do you explain that?”

Well, since I wanted to know the good doctor’s explanation, I kept reading, and I am very glad that I did. Dr. Leman offered enough explanation for atypical situations such as my own family’s. The death of a parent of a young family and a subsequent blending of family certainly does, to quote Dr. Leman, cause “certain birth orders to get stepped on.”

Once I let go of my initial incredulity and gave Dr. Leman an open minded hearing, I found that many of his conclusions were solid and had merit. As much as is possible to categorize such things, since there are always variables not easily accounted for, he does an admirable job.

This book presents thoughtful, engaging propositions and examples of how various family dynamics can manifest as it relates to birth order. It’s a good book, and an enjoyable read.

Grade: B