I signed up to review An Unholy Communion by Donna Fletcher Crow because much of the action takes place on a pilgrimage – and having been on a pilgrimage, I will always be interested in – maybe even haunted by – pilgrimage. It was very interesting to me to read about a pilgrimage I had never heard of and in a denomination I’m not particularly familiar with. Furthermore, it’s a “spiritual warfare” novel and I haven’t read one of those since Frank Peretti…a long, long, long time ago.

The main characters are Felicity and Father Antony, who are newly engaged. They are likeable, although I found them a bit overdramatic where their romance was concerned. For example, after the tiniest disagreement ever – like so small I wouldn’t even count it as a disagreement – Felicity feels this need for reconciliation. I kept finding myself bewildered as to the strong emotional language because it never seemed like they really had any problems. Maybe that’s because I’m viewing it through the lens of several years of marriage, I don’t know. If Jake and I had those disagreements I’d just shrug it off.

One thing that bothered me was that there was never any mention of to which faith/denomination the characters belong. I assumed they were not Catholic as Catholic priests cannot marry so I was wondering if they were Anglican. I did some googling and discovered that is the case. It would have been nice to have at least a mention of that in the book, as I am very unfamiliar with Anglican practices and so a lot of that part of the book was confusing to me. Furthermore, the spiritual warfare part seemed unlikely. *spoiler alert* One of the young pilgrims is kidnapped to be sacrificed. I have very limited experience with anything the occult but I just find human sacrifice to be unlikely – it’s the extreme example you think of with the occult. I suppose you have to go there if you want to include the occult in a murder mystery, though. The climax and denouement felt rushed.

Overall, the characters were likeable and I really enjoyed reading about the Welsh countryside (and food!). The retreat centre where the characters spend a week after the pilgrimage sounds amazing and beautiful, I would love to stay there. Crow does an excellent job of bringing the setting to life and made me want to visit a part of the UK I’ve never really considered.

A few weeks ago our church moved into a new building and when we picked Asher up the teacher was telling us about the cool new stuff they would start the next week, including a video curriculum for the Bible story. I asked them for the name of the curriculum and if there was a way for me to watch it first. She told us and I was going to leave it at that but Jake then informed her that we don’t let Asher watch videos. I realized that we have become one of “those” parents – the weird ones. As we were talking about it on the way home I pointed out that, as Asher is potty-trained and we don’t leave Caroline in the nursery yet, they aren’t even aware that we cloth diaper. They are going to think we are REALLY weird when they find that out. I told Jake that I don’t feel weird, these things feel normal to me. But taken as a whole we are very weird people and I can see why it is a bit difficult for us to make friends.

  • We don’t own a TV. And I am very vigilant about limiting screen time for my kids when they are around smartphones etc.
  • Cloth diapers (which, for the record, I prefer over disposables – even if the cost was the same. Disposables stink and feel so…papery.)
  • No soda, except root beer or cream soda as a special treat. We pretty much drink only water, sometimes juice.
  • We put our kids to bed super early and make sure they have time to take solid naps.
  • We try to avoid licensed characters. When Asher needs a toothbrush or something I go to great lengths to find one that doesn’t have a “character” on it. Aside: I shouldn’t have to go to great lengths but unfortunately most toddler toothbrushes have Mickey or Thomas or Dora on them.
  • We’re debt free and actually have money in the bank. Even during times of unemployment.
  • I try to cook from scratch and avoid prepackaged things.
  • We buy used. Any time we need something, we check craigslist first. We have a stroller, a couch & loveseat set, a glider, and a sewing machine that were all purchased used. We only buy used cars. Our mattress, washer, and dryer are hand-me-downs, and everything else has been built by Jake from re-purposed wood.
  • We both try to stay physically active.
  • I will keep my kids rear-facing in the car until I can no longer find a carseat they will fit in.
  • Per WHO recommendations I hope/plan to nurse my babies around 2 years each.

So, lady, it’s not just that I expect you to actually teach and interact with my child instead of popping in a DVD (seriously. What is so difficult about teaching 2-year-olds? Tell them a short story, they will love it and it is so much better for them than watching a video!). Altogether these things make me, and us, pretty different from most of the people I know. I’m ok with that and I’m ok with the fact that you probably talk about us after we leave for rocking the boat. Looking over that list I totally sound like a hippie-granola but I like all of these things about me and my family. These things are comfortable and normal for me. And I think you’re the weird one for thinking a video curriculum for Bible stories is a good thing.

These are kinda tardy. Apparently it’s a bit more difficult to find time to write when you have to hope 2 kids nap at the same time.

Halloween:
I was walking in the neighborhood near our apartment just before Halloween and I was kinda appalled at the creepy decorations people use. The fall-theme stuff is fine – scarecrows, hay, leaves, and gourds – but I kept thinking how I wouldn’t want to take my kid trick-or-treating in an area with skeletons and witches and bloody-looking stuff everywhere. Some cultures have a “Day of the Dead” and you are supposed to honor your ancestors but American Halloween just seems so pointless. I know some Christians don’t like Halloween because of its pagan roots but I don’t really care about that. (I mean, the way we celebrate both Christmas and Easter have pagan influences but nobody seems upset by that. I’m not convinced Satan has much to do with fun-size chocolates.) What I do not understand is deliberately frightening small children. I remember this one time I went trick-or-treating with my dad and this one house had a guy sitting on his porch with a bucket of candy in his lap. He was sitting stock still so you couldn’t tell if he was real or a dummy. I thought he was probably real and planning to scare me so I asked my dad to go with me. He told me if I wanted the candy I had to go up there myself. So I went, they guy scared me, and my dad cracked up. It just seems like so much of Halloween stuff is intended for small children to be frightened and adults to enjoy their fright and – isn’t scaring someone for your own sport sort of the definition of bullying?

Politics:
Now that the #$&!@% election is over I just have to say…there is something really, really wrong about the political system in America. I have been really displeased with recent candidates for the “big” positions – with multi-million dollar campaign funds it seems like we are back to only allowing the wealthy elite into power and unfortunately wealthy elite are utterly unqualified to represent the common man. For example, one guy running for senator in Texas (in the primaries) had a platform that was basically “I am rich, vote for me.” Really? Having a lot of money does not qualify you to represent me; in fact, quite the opposite. I don’t think either mainline party has viable answers to what everyone perceives as our country’s problems; I tend to be Libertarian-minded but find many of their candidates to be underqualified. (Not that I want candidates who are career politicians – I don’t – but the Libertarian candidate for senator just got out of grad school. Like straight from high school to college to grad school, he just graduated. I would really like my representatives to have some real-world experience before they head off to Washington, you know?) Anyway I used to be super passionate about voting and stuff and I couldn’t understand why people would choose to not exercise their right to vote but I have grown very cynical of late. I was unexcited about either candidate running the country (it was a pipe dream but I really hoped Ron Paul would get the Republican* nomination) and only decided at the last minute to vote. Actually the main reason I wanted to vote was I thought there was going to be a school voucher issue on the ballot but there wasn’t, which I was upset about. Since I was going to vote on the vouchers I figured I may as well fill in the rest of the ballot and honestly for President I viewed it as voting for an economic system rather than a person. I know I am kind of weird but I’m not that odd – I don’t think it bodes well for the future of our country when people my age and younger are disengaging from the political process.

And people are SO ANNOYING about their political beliefs. Ugh. Two behaviors that really irk me are 1. assuming that being a Christian means you have to vote a particular way and 2. being super-political on Facebook and then a week or two before the election saying you’re tired of “all the rhetoric” and quitting Facebook until after it’s over. Um…you were part of the problem and the reason some of us just plain avoided Facebook for like 2 months. This is one of many, many things I hate about Facebook. That’s another post entirely.

*For the record I don’t really consider myself a Republican. Republicans, Libertarians, and even a Democrat all got bubbles filled in on my ballot. I just heart Ron Paul.

Princesses:
In keeping with the theme of Caroline’s quilt, I saw this on a blog I read. I may have gotten a little choked up over it. I really hope I can raise my daughter without the diva attitude associated with being a princess…but I hope she knows these things about herself.

I’m not very girly. I don’t wear a lot of makeup, and you usually can’t tell when I do. I don’t get the point of fingernail polish and I’m not really sure what Pintrest is. Because of this, and a few other reasons, I never expected to have a girl. I mean, if God gave you children based on your personality, I would be that mom with half a soccer team’s worth of sons in the back of a minivan or maybe a suburban (but probably a minivan. I don’t find myself too cool for a minivan.).

But, God does not give us children according to our personality; He gives us children according to our need. I don’t think I mentioned it on here but for a while – 9 months, give or take – I was pregnant. About 2 months ago I gave birth to a little girl and was sort of in shock to find that there would be another female in our little family. Of course the moment you hold your baby for the first time you find that this was the baby you really wanted all along, the baby you needed, and slowly the changes in my future have been sinking in: joy that there will finally be someone to watch Pride & Prejudice with me; horror and dread that I will have to fix someone’s hair. (I don’t even fix my own hair. A ponytail is a legitimate and respectable hairdo as far as I am concerned.)

For some reason, even though I’m not into crafts (what IS the point of scrapbooking, anyway?) it was really important that I make something for my little girl, and I knew exactly what that something would be:

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on this little quilt in whatever spare time I have. Which isn’t much, what with a new baby and a toddler (not to mention a husband) on my hands. I used this tutorial, except instead of a real charm pack I used fairy tale prints.

Sleeping Beauty

Peter Pan. One of my favorites. I cut all the squares of this one wrong but I’m not showing a closeup of that.

Little Red Riding Hood

Snow White. My other favorite. Unfortunately there’s only one square of it because that’s all the fabric I could find.

Cinderella

Frog Prince

Emperor’s New Clothes

Wizard of Oz

Three Little Pigs

And the back:

is

The Princess and the Pea

So, baby girl, may your life be an amazing adventure and unbelievable story. May you do grand things but, more importantly, be a grand person. May your heart be filled with courage, compassion, and generosity; may you experience real friendship, genuine kindness, and true love. May you see the prince within the frog (and pray your parents see him, too!). Fight against wrong, search for truth, set things right, and push back the darkness. On your quest for justice and beauty may you only experience the smallest amount of hardship and sorrow necessary to keep your heart tender. Build your home with wisdom and let your life be marked by extravagant love and childlike wonder. May you never discover any kind of vegetable in your bed, but especially not peas, and may you always know your mama loves you enough to rip out an entire quilt binding and start over just to make it prettier.

And most importantly, may your life be a part of The Great Story.

Sometimes fairy stories may say best what’s to be said. – C.S. Lewis

Last year I had the opportunity to read and review The Mountains Bow Down by Sibella Giorello. I enjoyed it and was excited when the next installment in the series, The Stars Shine Bright, came out.

While I still think Giorello is a very talented writer, and I did enjoy the novel, I honestly don’t think it lived up to my expectations. I think this one would be more difficult to understand without some of the back story, as previous events are frequently referenced. I also found the Christian/faith aspect to be a little more heavy-handed in this installment, and sometimes it feels a little forced – like out of nowhere Raleigh (the main character) is praying or something.

The two main problems I had with The Stars Shine Bright are that 1. Raleigh is extremely angst-y about lying…but she’s an undercover FBI agent. I personally don’t regard an undercover op as lying; it’s more like acting. I guess if being an actor automatically makes one a liar then I could see why she would feel so guilty, but you would think the FBI would include training on this subject before they send an agent out into the field. 2. There are some “political” messages tucked in there, also feeling kind of forced. One regards creation vs. evolution and the other is about abortion. Personally I do not turn to a work of fiction to learn a moral lesson or re-consider my political views so I find it really annoying to run across this sort of thing in a novel.

However, I found the premise of the story interesting: Raleigh is undercover at a horse track, so it was interesting to learn more about that world. And the backstory was progressed in some interesting (although not unexpected) ways. This book actually reminded me very strongly of the Temperance Brennan novels, except Raleigh is a forensic geologist instead of a forensic anthropologist so there’s way less blood. But if you enjoy the Kathy Reichs/Temperance Brennan series, you would likely enjoy this series as well. Unless you just really like reading about decayed tissue.

Here are the other blogs on the tour, and here is a Kindle Fire giveaway hosted by the author, Sibella Giorello.

This book was provided for review by the LitFuse Publicity Group.

I recently had the opportunity to read Passages by Brian Hardin. The subtitle is “How reading the Bible in a year will change everything for you” and that pretty much sums it up. Hardin is the creator of the Daily Audio Bible podcast, wherein he reads a few passages every day so that if you listen every day you will have heard the whole Bible in one year.

If you have ever gone to church, you know that Christians are very into reading the Bible, or at least talking about reading the Bible. (And, possibly, feeling guilty for not doing so.) Passages explains why this is an important practice and gives a lot of examples from the lives of Daily Audio Bible people of how making Bible-reading part of their everyday lives changed their spiritual lives.

But, honestly, I have a few problems with this book. The first – and this is nitpicky – is that I don’t see anywhere in Scripture where it specifically says that it is important to read through the whole Bible in one year. I am not arguing that making the Bible a part of every day will benefit your spiritual life, I think that is very Biblical. I just think the important part is the “every day” bit, not the “whole Bible” bit. I mean, you could just sit down and read through the whole thing in one go and not touch it again for a year and technically you would have read through the whole Bible in a year but the results will not be the same. If you have never read the Bible before I think it’s more important to start, and stick with it, even if you’re only doing a little at a time, than to feel it’s necessary to keep up with an in-a-year plan. The second problem that I have (possibly even more nitpicky) is that Hardin does talk about keeping Scripture in context – which is very important to me – but if that’s the case it seems that he would favor a chronological reading rather than the one he uses (a little Old Testament, a little New Testament, and a little bit o’ Psalms and Proverbs). A chronological reading provides the historical context for why God said what He did when He said it. Which should, in turn, lead to a better understanding.

The third and biggest problem that I have with Passages is the emphasis on community (there is a forum on the Daily Audio Bible site). Now, don’t get me wrong, I think community is very, very important. And I agree that it’s very, very important to read the Bible in community. But in my opinion a huge failing of the modern church is the idea that “virtual community” is the same thing as community. It is not. I say that as someone who has lived overseas and has been/am very, very grateful for podcasts and webcasts of sermons and Skype and Facebook (well, I’m not grateful for that one anymore, that’s a different topic) and email and blogs. All those things are wonderful for providing a sense of community for people who feel isolated in real life…and they are also wonderful crutches for those people. (I say this with experience.) Without exception, all of the examples of community in the early church are very physical – they were eating together, going to each other’s houses, meeting each other’s physical needs for clothing, etc. I know the internet wasn’t around then but my point is that very few of those things can be accomplished in a forum. And participating in a forum where everyone else listened to the same podcast is not the same as reading the Bible in community. Reading the Bible in community is reading the Bible with other real live people. If you do not know real live people nearby, STOP LISTENING TO YOUR IPOD AND GO MEET SOME. Invite your neighbors over. Join a club. Say hi to the other mom with a little kid going crazy in the grocery store. The friends you make in a forum cannot come sit with you in the waiting room of a hospital when you are both desperate for and dreading news. They cannot bring you dinner after you have a new baby. They cannot take your kid to the park so you can have a break for an hour. They can’t give you a ride to work when your car breaks down. And you can’t do those things for them. Physical presence is, I believe, a deeply important part of community and it is a grave mistake to believe anything that happens on the internet is a satisfactory substitute. One of the personal stories in the book says of moving, “Rather than being terrified about having to find a whole new support system, I am now excited to move, knowing that there is still a community with me” and when I read that I felt really sorry for the girl who wrote it. Sure, you will still have online friends but that’s just not the same as meeting up with a real-life friend after a crappy day at work. And yes, finding/building community is a long and difficult and sometimes lonely process…but God is putting you in that place for a reason, get off your computer and go find it.

Those things aside, Passages is good motivation to do something you know you ought to be doing or inspiration to start if you’ve never thought about it.

Read the other reviews on the blog tour here.

This book was provided for review by the LitFuse Publicity Group.

I think I would make a pretty good wife to (one of) a lot of guys. I’m a cheap date, partially because having anyone’s money spent on me makes me feel really anxious and guilty and partially because I really, really love pizza. I enjoy football enough to get up at 3am to watch a game if that’s when it’s on (because you live on the other side of the world). I genuinely enjoy being left alone. I hate talking about feelings. I’m pretty low maintenance, both in the “I hate talking about feelings” kind of way and also the “I’m almost 30 and finally just bought a hair dryer…which I use but rarely” kind of way. I think shopping is one of the most horrible, torturous ways to spend one’s time and cannot fathom why some people have made a hobby of it. The smell of sweat doesn’t bother me, as long as it’s relatively recent sweat and not the stale-sweat smell of a locker room. I have never asked anyone if I look fat because I know I’m not. I like driving with the windows down and couldn’t care less about the effects on my hair. I honestly don’t get how some people have a “thing” for shoes, and to be even more honest I’m not even sure what that means, except that everyone who says “I have a thing for shoes” has an awful lot of shoes.

And I like cooking from scratch. Not in a snobby way, like I think I can do better than Betty Crocker, but more because I think you should probably at least have a vague idea of what you are ingesting, at least most of the time. So, for example, if I decide we are going to have macaroni and cheese for dinner, I buy a few different kinds of cheeses – a really really sharp cheddar, maybe some Havarti, maybe some Jarlsberg, just whatever sounds like an interesting blend – and I make a sauce with them and whole milk and maybe a splash of cream, if I’m feeling luxurious. Sure, it takes longer than the stuff in a box but it tastes much better and I know what I’m feeding my family. I have no earthly idea what that orange powder is that comes in the blue-box mac and cheese. Anyway one day Jake pleaded with me to buy some blue box macaroni, “just for a special treat.” I stared at him, incredulous, before pointing out that MOST PEOPLE would consider the homemade variety a special treat. He scrunched up his face in disbelief and said, “Really?!” before deciding I was joking. When I assured him that this was not, in fact, part of my stand-up routine he declared all the lost souls who prefer macaroni in a sauce made of actual cheese to be “weird.”

See, I’m not married to most guys. I am married to one very specific man. The oft-repeated advice in marriage books may work for women married to 99% of men, but I often find it unhelpful because I am not married to 99% of men. Or rather, one of 99% of men. I am married to this one guy and I have to figure out how to be the wife that he needs. Sure, there is a lot of wisdom to be found in books written by “experts” but at the end of my life I will be the only person on earth capable of being an expert in being married to Jake. I have to write my own book here, make my own way. Apparently this includes occasionally serving flavorless noodles in an unidentified orange paste. I may think it’s pretty cool that I avoid talking about feelings but if that is something he is genuinely interested in doing I should probably learn to emote now and then. It is incumbent upon me to become the wife that he needs, not the wife that sounds awesome to me.

Same thing with my son. A degree in child development doesn’t make me an expert of any kind, let alone an expert in the development of Asher. It wouldn’t matter if I were Piaget Junior, or if T. Berry Brazelton came to me for advice, if I paid no attention to the one child I am raising. I owe it to my son to figure out how to raise him to be the man God created him to be. And that may mean that I read the widely varying views of all the development/parenting “experts” out there, and pore over the works of Michael Gurian and Leonard Sax to figure out how boys work…and maybe I find something useful, but maybe not. Maybe I still come up with nothing that is useful in raising my particular boy. And if that’s the case it is still my responsibility to work through how to best train my son as he grows up.

I am, barring some unforeseen tragedy, the only wife Jake will ever have. I am the only mother my son will have. Which means I am, to each of them, The One. I can just be the kind of wife I think I would want if I were a guy…or I can do the much harder work of becoming the wife my husband needs (and the wife I need to be). I can parent in a “this is the way it’s always been done” way, or an “I wish my parents had been like this” kind of way, but neither will be as beneficial to my child as painstakingly uncovering his needs and discovering what he responds to, what will capture his heart. These are daunting tasks – am I willing to be the one to each of my ones?

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