Els' Rabbit Trails, family, nonfiction, writing

NaNoWriMo, but non-fiction?

It’s November, that month where many writers, would-be writers, never-will-be-writers, and bloggers who write about writing promote National Novel Writing Month. I enjoy good novels, and have been encouraged over the years that my gift for the written word should be shared in ways beyond online forums. Writing fiction however, has never interested me. My imagination just isn’t that great. When and if I ever accomplish my desire of publishing something others are willing to pay to read, it will have to be non-fiction.

My beloved, having supplied me with the tools  to transfer my “profound” ideas and insights to the written word, has once again encouraged me that anything I need, including time and space, he will make available so that I can fulfill this longing. The only thing comparable to being well-loved is being believed in. As an act of appreciation for his faith, I’m putting a  personal spin NaNoWriMo, committing to writing every day for next 30 days. Should all go according to plan 30,000 words will be transferred from my head, to the keyboard, and onto paper by years’ end.

Even as I type this, my mind is fighting: “You are hosting Thanksgiving for 20 people this year”, “You are teaching this semester and need to prep for the next”, and the perpetual nagging thought, “You have more important priorities to focus on as a wife and mother.”

The struggle of balancing duties with desires can be a never ending one. It’s so often why most people simply choose one or the other, duties or desires, and let the chips fall for better or worse. Because we really can’t do “it all”, but we can do some of it.

I have concluded that writing 1000 words a day is doable, and not an all-encompassing,  overly time consuming task. It is just enough to hone one’s craft, but not so much that it steals time best devoted to other things.

We’ll see how this goes.

 

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books for women, marriage and relationships, nonfiction, politics

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism.

politically incorrect guide

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism, by Carrie L. Lukas. Copyright 2006. Hardcover, 221 pages.

The wonderful thing about books and literature is that there are few subjects which haven’t been covered by someone at some time. I read The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism at least 5 years ago (maybe more), and I hadn’t thought much about the book in two or three. Whenever I purge our bookshelves, I keep it tucked away on a shelf because I want it to be available for my daughters to read.

After witnessing yesterday what can only be described as a national disgrace masquerading as a legal proceeding, I remembered a few things. The first was that in 47 years on the planet, I have somehow never managed to 1) get drunk or 2) attend a party where most of the attendees was getting drunk. This was true even when I was a teenager, and even during the years when I was walking contrary to the Christian faith in which I was raised. It’s amazing what can be avoided when you watch the company you keep.

Secondly, I remembered this book, and how much I appreciated the candor used and the unapologetic way that Carrie Lukas laid out unpalatable truths. A cursory glance at the reviews for the book on Amazon and Good reads demonstrates how offensive many women found the book. I on the other hand, thought it was very well written, filled with objective analysis of  the ways women are more vulnerable. It was filled with what used to be considered universally sound truth rather than attacked as politically incorrect ideology.

Unvarnished truth is a medicine that often tastes bad going down, but if we take it like adults, we just might find healing. At the end of chapter 2, on page 18 Lukas lists what she titled, “Top Ten Things Young Women Need to Know (that feminists won’t tell them)”. I’ll list them here, with the recommendation that you read the book even if you’re not as averse to feminist thought as I am, because the ideas are worth pondering.

The Top Ten Things

  • Flowers, candy, and opened doors aren’t weapons of oppression. Chivalrous gestures show a guy actually respects you and may be interested in a relationship.

  • You’re most fertile in your twenties. During your thirties, fertility declines and many women have trouble getting pregnant after age 35. Plan ahead! [some of this stuff is beyond a woman’s control, of course, but deliberate postponement of marriage is foolish]

  • Discrimination isn’t why women make less money than men. Women make different choices and have different priorities which results in them earning less.

  • Condoms are not a get-out-of-STD-free device; condoms do little or nothing to prevent the spread of several serious STDs.

  • Kids raised by their parents [Els’ translation: mothers] tend to have fewer emotional and behavioral problems than kids who spend long hours in day care.

  • Not everyone is doing it [emphasis mine]. Fewer of your peers than you think are engaging in casual sex- and those who are often regret it.

  • There’s no shame is aspiring to marry- married people tend to be happier, healthier, and better off financially.

  • Divorce doesn’t erase a marriage- it creates a new set of problems for you and your children.

  • You should make goals in your personal life just like you do in your career.

  • Being a woman doesn’t make you a victim. You have choices to make, and choices to live with. That’s what being liberated and independent is all about.

~ The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex , and Feminism, p. 18

5 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

American history, cookbooks, Food, nonfiction

A Square Meal, pt. 2

a suare meal

A Square Meal: A Culinary History of The Great Depression, by Jane Zeigleman and Andrew Coe. Published 2016. 336 pages.

Read part 1 of this review here.

So…what did people actually eat during the Great Depression?

In reality, a lot of people ate just fine. There were plenty of hungry souls, but the one drawback of this book is that without a working knowledge and full picture of the period,  you’d come away thinking that just about everyone in America was starving. Not everyone was, but as I noted in the first installment of this review, the hungry were caught in the middle of a political tug of war which spilled over into the rest of the country, changed the way the populace viewed economic security, and catapulted FDR into the White House.

The Depression, for both the destitute and those who feared destitution knocking at their door any day, ushered in a culture of extreme attention to thrift. This thrifty attitude was served up on plates of the employed and unemployed alike. Because the home economists and nutrition specialists who worked for the government wanted to make those living on relief as uncomfortable as possible with the prospect, the food allotments were bare bones and bland, as were the recipes they introduced to families as a way to stretch their food.

Recipes that would make most of us turn up our noses in disgust were prepared and received with thanks by people little else to choose from. Even then, according to Coe and Zeigleman, there were times when the lack of calories and necessary nutrients caused even them to complain of the substandard nature of the food they received. They made do dishes such as Ritz mock apple pie, where the buttery crackers serve as a stand-in for the apples:

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 3/4 cups water

Pastry for 2-crust 9-inch pie

36 Ritz Crackers, coarsely broken (about 1 3/4 cups)

Zest and 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into small pieces

1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Mix sugar and cream of tartar in medium saucepan. Gradually stir in water. Bring to boil on high heat; simmer on low 15 minutes. Stir in zest and juice; cool 30 minutes.

2. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Roll out half of pastry on lightly floured surface to 11-inch circle; place in 9-inch pie plate. Place cracker crumbs in crust. Pour sugar syrup over crumbs; top with butter and cinnamon.

3. Roll out remaining pastry to 10-inch circle; place over pie. Seal and flute edge. Cut several slits in top crust to permit steam to escape. Place on parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool.

The casserole made its debut during the Depression, but it wasn’t the tasty, cheesy, seasoned dish most Americans love in some way, shape or form. No. It was more along the lines of this ditty cooked up from the mind the well-intentioned Eleanor Roosevelt, spaghetti with boiled carrots and white sauce (from Ranker.com):

Made from spaghetti, boiled carrots, and a simple white sauce of milk, flour, salt, and butter, the first step is to cook the spaghetti for a sadistic 25 minutes, which in a sane world means Step #2 is to order the biggest pizza Domino’s will make. But this is the Great Depression we’re talking about, so the idea is to get the noodles mushy so they pair nicely with the boiled-to-death carrots and the pennies worth of creamy sauce. The result? A “vehicle for nutrition and nutrients” that probably made people want to eat their old Flapper hats instead.

The most unusual food stuff I came across while reading this book was the word “milkorno”, which I later learned was a mixture of milk, corn meal and salt that home cooks could use in various ways to stretch and pad their meals adding both a filling experience and superior nutrition. From Ranker:

Mad scientists at Cornell University in 1933 invented a gruel called Milkorno, a mix of powdered skim milk, corn meal, and salt, to help families in need “stretch budgets without sacrificing nourishment,” promising “Meals For a Family of 5 For $5 a Week.” The name comes from combining “milk” and “corn” with the surprised “Oh!” that guests of Eleanor Roosevelt probably made when she explained what she tricked them into eating at the White House later that same year.

There were also Milkorno’s step-siblings Milkwheato and Milkoato.

The recipe which sent me on my search for the content and origins of this “superfood” can be found on page 183 of A Square Meal: Chop Suey with Milkorno:

2 pounds lean pork cut into cubes

2 cups sliced celery

2 cups sliced onions

3 or 4 cups cooked milkorno

salt and pepper to taste

Saute pork; add the seasonings and 1/2 cup water and simmer until tender. About 1/2 hour before the meat is tender add the celery and onions. If desired the gravy may be thickened by adding 2 tablespoons of flour to each cup of liquid. Pour this mixture over hot cooked milkorno, and serve.

Sounds yummy!

From our vantage point, 80 years in the future where food is plentiful, we have access to more variety and flavors of food any era, and more nutrition information than we ever needed, it’s easy to look at these recipes and see them as disgusting culinary gruel. These foods however, served to fill a specific need at a specific point in history. They also, whatever their limitations, illustrate an ability to adapt and make due under far less than ideal circumstances, a skill sorely lacking in today’s Western culture.

For those insights among others, I highly recommend A Square Meal. It exposes the reader to a lot of information and history that has been lost to all but the most avid history buff who would bother to seek it out. It’s not a perfect book, but it does manage to be both engaging and educational without bludgeoning the reader with the authors ideology. That latter alone makes it worth a read.

4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

American history, cookbooks, educational, nonfiction, politics

A Square Meal, pt. 1

a suare meal

A Square Meal: A culinary history of the Great Depression, by Jane Zeigleman and Andrew Coe. Originally published in 2016. Hardcover, 336 pages.

After dancing around the review of this information loaded book, I finally concluded I could only do it justice reviewed in two parts. This is because the book delves heavily into two subjects, showing how they overlapped during the Great Depression.

In some sections, mostly the beginning, A Square Meal heavily explores the economic and political climate as the soaring, roaring 20s gave way to the austere and lean 1930s. Beginning with the differences in culinary and lifestyle attitudes between rural America and urban America in the years following WWI, these authors take pains to cover every base that contributed to Americans’ approach to food at beginning of a long economic winter that stubbornly refused to loosen its grip.

They assumed, rightly I believe, that it wouldn’t be possible to adequately discuss the latter without giving the reader a thorough understanding of the former. Because of that, I am going to use this part of the review to highlight some of the cultural, political, and economic themes they explore before getting to the ways this informed meals and Depression era cooking in part 2.

As the mid-1920s unfolded, there was something of a tension between the young people who were leaving the rural farms of their youth (particularly the young men returning home from Europe after the war), and the families left behind on farms in rural America who were largely deemed as backwards and inefficient by modern urban standards. There were whole disciplines, both academic and vocational, dedicated to rural reforms and increasing the efficiency of work for farmwives. This disconnect was largely based on the fact that time and productivity in the two places was viewed quite differently:

“In the great urban centers, the pulse of the factory served as a kind of metronome for the city at large. In the urban workplace, where wages were paid by the hour, efficiency was a measure of success. Factory hands demonstrated their worth by completing the maximum number of standardized motions in a given period. After the factory whistle blew, their time was their own. But even at leisure, city dwellers saw time as a resource, like coal or copper. The fear that time might run out, as every resource will, left them with the dread of time wasted.

On the farm, meanwhile, time was not something you stockpiled like firewood. Farm chores took as long as they took—there was no rushing an ear of corn—and the workday stretched to accommodate the tasks at hand. Time was elastic. The minutes and hours that mattered so much to city folk were irrelevant to the drawn-out biological processes on which the farmer depended. In place of the clock, the farmer’s yardstick for measuring time was the progress of the seasons. As a result, his view of time was expansive, focused on the sweeping cycles of the natural world. For city people, time was fractured into finite segments like boxes on a conveyor belt. On the farm, time was continuous, like a string around a tree, one season flowing inevitably into the next.

It was this rural inefficiency that that urban “efficiency experts” tackled with a fierce determination to eliminate. Even when farm wives expressed great contentment with their lives and lot, their passionate letters in response to magazine articles portraying them as “The Woman God Forgot” were ignored. The people who knew better were dedicated to improving their lives whether they felt they needed it or not:

To quantify what they already knew, in the early 1920s researchers from the Department of Agriculture equipped rural homemakers with pedometers, devices pinned to the women’s aprons or strapped to their ankles which counted their steps as they went about their chores. Among their findings was that one Montana woman walked a quarter of a mile in the course of baking a lemon pie!

I’ll leave the irony of pedometers as a tool to measure steps for the purpose of decreasing them hanging there for you to consider. Efficiency apartments with their nonexistent kitchens, the proliferation of delicatessen, and the marked increase in working girls stood in stark contrast to the life of the farm wife.

Once the crash of 1929 took place, a slow equilibrium between rural and urban life began to gradually flow across the country. Initially the urban centers were the hardest hit, as the rural parts of the country were at least equipped to feed themselves with the fruits of their own labor. As the early 30’s began however, a severe drought overtook much of farm country. Hunger and subsistence living became a way of life in every part of the country.

It is at this juncture that the authors spend a fair amount of time discussing the political policies of the day. There was an outcry from many people for food relief, while the federal government balked at the very idea. Fear of creating a people dependent on the “the dole” was a paramount concern at the time. President Hoover was convinced that a combination of public charity and local government was the answer, not federal aid in the form of food relief.

The federal government’s abject refusal to offer aid in the form of anything other than seed for planting -not very useful during a drought- and copious literature with suggested ways to survive on less, cheaper food largely paved the way for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ascendancy to the presidency.

As governor of New York, Roosevelt embarked on what was at the time described as one of the greatest social experiments ever undertaken. Families in his state were given aid in the form of direct food relief, something that hadn’t yet been done beyond the local level and through the Red Cross, which was itself derelict in its distribution of relief to the starving.

Along with the distribution of coupons for a strictly chosen list of staple foods, the women who headed home economics departments throughout the country and in government agencies went to work producing menus meant to be a “living diet” rather than a ‘working diet”. These were complete with recipes for meal ideas meant to stretch the groceries as far as possible. Dishes for example, such as creamed spaghetti with carrots, just one casserole among many that was a popular way to deal with the monotony of ingredients that families were allotted through food relief programs.

That is but one among many culinary developments of the Great Depression with which I hope to share from the book in part 2. This book is a wealth of information and there’s no way I can possibly explore it all, so I do recommend you give it a read if the topic interests you.

I hope to be able to post the second half of this review by Friday.

Christian, Culture, nonfiction, Uncategorized

The Benedict Option

benedict option

The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher, originally published in 2017.

I originally posted this review in January of this year, and am presenting it again with  additional thoughts based on my expended perspective on the issues it explores.

This article,  which I only recently encountered, outlines some concerns about the prospect of Christians fervently embracing The Benedict Option. I think he makes some valid points worthy of consideration. It left me wondering where the perfect balance is between The Benedict Option and the status quo. I concluded that it isn’t so hard to find, at least in this instance.

One of the reasons I read non fiction books is because I hope to learn, discern, and implement things of value from with the pages. Because my life contained precious little extension towards building intentional Christian community outside of Sunday services, I have undertaken what it for me a valiant undertaking: Opening my home up to extend hospitality to my fellow believers at least once a month.

We shall see how that develops, but after the first official event yesterday, and with invitations extended for another, I was reminded of my review of this book and the evolution of my thoughts on the subject. it with this in mind that I am re-running my review of The Benedict Option:

I decided to read this book after about six months of regularly reading Mr. Dreher’s commentary over at his blog on The American Conservative. As such, I approached this entire discussion and exploration of his ideas from a novice perspective. I was unaware that he had been promoting this idea for some time or that it had undergone various iterations over the past few years.

I am quite partial to the virtues of seeing a thing through new eyes. It was after all, my husband’s novice, unchurched, untainted conversion to the Christian faith which invigorated my own and showed -embarrassingly so- how little I knew the Bible that I thought I knew so much about.

In the time since I have begun reading Mr. Dreher, I have come to learn that people whose opinions I hold in regard find the sum total Mr. Dreher’s prescription problematic. However, I am going to review this book the way I originally approached it; as a novice to Mr. Dreher’s ideas and solely on the merits of what he offered within its pages.

I begin this review with the same caveat I offered to my Protestant friend before she began it. Namely that Dreher is “big O” Orthodox, and Protestants should appreciate this distinction as they begin his book. There are points and assertions Dreher makes which spring from this base and no doubt would turn off many a Protestant who is unprepared for some of his points.

Overall, however, I think the book and its ideas is worth a look. I suspect many Christians are probably already living loose versions of his idea in their own lives if they haven’t trapped themselves in ideologically driven quarantines from other believers.

In sum, Dreher -in his book at least- proposes that Christians build intentional and separate communities from the larger culture as the cultural ethos grows increasingly hostile to Christian faith and values. It is always best for the reader to do his or her own homework. However, even with a few quibbles here and there, I agree with the general tone and proposal Dreher puts forth. After all the Bible does implore us to come out and be separate, calling us a peculiar people.

A quote:

Relearning the lost art of community is something Christians should do in obedience to the Apostle Paul, who counseled the faithful to do their parts to grow the Body of Christ “for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15). But there are also practical reasons for doing so. Building communities of believers will be necessary as the number of Christians becomes thinner on the ground.

In the book I did not gather that Dreher was advocating total isolation from the larger culture, which was a good thing. On technological advances:

Benedict Option families and communities who remain apathetic toward technology inadvertently undermine nearly everything they are trying to achieve. Technology itself is a kind of liturgy that teaches us to frame our experiences in the world in certain ways and that, if we aren’t careful, profoundly distorts our relationship to God, to other people, and to the material world – and even our self-understanding.

When we abstain from practices that disorder our loves, and in that time of fasting redouble our contemplation of God and the good things of Creation, we re-center our minds on the inner stability we need to create a coherent, meaningful self. The Internet is a scattering phenomenon, one that encourages surrender to passionate impulses. If we fail to push back against the Internet as hard as it pushes against us, we cannot help but lose our footing. And if we lose our footing, we ultimately lose the straight path through life.

I liked the book. I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (reviewed here) is infinitely better as Bonhoeffer is pretty incomparable. However, as he deals at length with the changes in the sexual culture and the inducement of technology into every phase of life, I think this book is worth the time it takes to give it a read.

Grade: B

RELATED: Review of Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American history, autobiographies, Classics, nonfiction, writing

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

frederick douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass. Kindle Edition. Original work published in 1845. Paperback edition, 82 pages.

I hadn’t planned to re-read this autobiographical work by the famed orator, abolitionist and escaped Frederick Douglass. It wasn’t in my queue for the fall. However our kids were assigned excerpts from it in a lesson on persuasive literary techniques and in the 20 years since my first reading, there were large portions I’d forgotten.

When unforeseen events found us on a road trip this weekend, I purchased the Kindle version of The Narrative for 0.99, using the travel time to reintroduce myself to Frederick Douglass’ brief but passionate recounting of his life in slavery, from his early years to his eventual escape and rise to prominence as a free man and respected abolitionist speaker and writer. I’m glad I reacquainted myself with it.

For myriad reasons, I long ago made the decision not to expend significant time reexamining nor ruminating on the history of slavery in America. To the extent that we want our children to understand the fruit of human sin as well as the blessings they now enjoy, we teach them the history of their ancestors, including those ancestors still among us who haven’t always shared the freedom they enjoy.

It means teaching the good as well as the bad. Those lessons however, are always balanced with the truth that they have enormous amounts of opportunities available to them as a result of earnest attempts at redress, no matter how imperfect. Their mission, should they choose to rise to the challenge of morality, industry, and integrity, is to seize it.

Frederick Douglass, with no opportunity, and only bitter yokes of oppression somehow seized the reins of his destiny and emerged not only successfully, but triumphantly. He wasn’t content with the achievement of his own freedom. He had a deep Christian faith which sparked in him the desire to see all men be free.

That is the moral of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, alongside his fervent abolitionist message. And his narrative is indeed an excellent example to use as a tool to teach the principles of persuasive writing. To that end, I will keep this short and sweet by ending with a few persuasive and eloquent quotes from Douglass’ narrative.

On how his master unwittingly sparked his passionate desire for knowledge and freedom when he was a young boy between 8 and 10 (Douglass never knew his exact age or birth date). His master discovered that his mistress was teaching him to read:

Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.”

These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty — to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained.

On the importance of keeping the mind of the slave in captivity. This quote feels especially apt in our current cultural climate, regardless of race:

“To make a contented slave, you must make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate his power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery. The man that takes his earnings, must be able to convince him that he has a perfect right to do so. It must not depend upon mere force; the slave must know no Higher Law than his master’s will. The whole relationship must not only demonstrate, to his mind, its necessity, but its absolute rightfulness.”

On the unprecedented and unparalleled cruelty of those oppressors who claim to be Christians:

“For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.”

Further:

“We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen, all for the glory of God and the good of souls. The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave trade go hand in hand.”

None of this spoiled Douglass’ fervor for and belief in Christ and the Christian faith:

“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the
corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical
Christianity of this land.”

This indeed is an excellent piece for exploring the power of persuasive rhetoric, and a powerful narrative of an important period in American history. I could go on, but the only other option is to paste the whole narrative here, which I don’t think is feasible.

It’s worth a read.

5 out of 5 stars.

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.