Archive | advent + christmas

why I just deleted my reading list (+ an update)

silly sisters

2015? Bring it on.


Happy New Year, everyone! It’s 2015 and I am raring to go. I have had a lot of time off work over the holidays and I positively drank it all in (still am.) I sat by the fire until my back itched. I played games without thought of “what else I need to be doing.” I got second helpings and chewed long and slow. I cupped coffee in warm mugs and made toasts with champagne glasses full of sparkling grape juice. I read picture books and ebooks (finally downloaded the Kindle app to my phone.) I had late night conversations about all that I hope 2015 will hold and late morning conversations with our feet up in the dining chairs about things that make us laugh like seagulls. I watched many movies, most of them new to us but old to the world. Cleaned my room, bought a tube of truly red lipstick, baked, took walks in the chilled outdoors, played with a downy puppy (you need to meet her!) and slept. so. much.

Oh how my stomach lurches when I remember (100 times a day) that this time is going to come to an end on January 5th. The more I enjoy myself, the more I dread saying goodbye to this holiday. However, I have been very enthusiastic about 2015 and excited to jump into January. It’s just much more fun to talk about goals and plans while sitting by a fire at 11:00 in the morning, scone in hand, than to actually hoist yourself out of 2014’s last sweet slumber.

I have goals, plans and hopes for 2015, some of which I’ll be sharing here in the future, but one thing I am not doing this year is a reading list. In 2014 I had the Read My Bookcase Challenge in which I selected 15 books from my own bookcase which I had never read and tried to read them instead of buying new books, for one year. I think the challenge went fairly well, though I didn’t read all fifteen books. I went through times of reading a lot and reading a little, but I didn’t buy *many* new books. You can’t blame me for picking up a copy of this or that at garage sales!

I also did end up reading a few books which were not on my list, as necessity arose. In retrospect, I read:

1. Pain Redeemed by Natasha Metzler

3. The Hawk and the Dove (Book 1) by Penelope Wilcock

4. Call the Midwife  by Jennifer Worth

5. Illustrating Children’s Books by Martin Salisbury

6. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

7. The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

8. A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman

9. Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

10. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

and am still working on

#11 The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White.

I have mentioned before that I am not a fast reader. I think I could read faster if I tried, but I wasn’t raised reading books for the sake of checking them off the list, but for the sake of enjoyment and education. I read slowly and I take long breaks. That’s just the way I am, for now.

I absolutely adored several books that I read last year and especially loved getting back into novels. The trouble with novels is that I feel guilty for reading them, as if they aren’t as important as reading nonfiction or doing something like putting away laundry or making a grocery list. I know that isn’t true, but the suspicion that it is sometimes keeps me from reading when I want to.

The Read My Bookcase Challenge did in fact “work” because I mostly read what was already in my own room, on the shelf, and I read a bit more consistently, knocking a few titles off my list that had been there for a while. That’s why I wrote a reading list for 2015 and put the titles from last year’s list that didn’t get read on the top. But then, with all of my other plans to be studious and full of effort in 2015, I thought it best to go without a list this year. I still hope to read-more than ever, if possible-but I don’t think I want to go by a list. I want to see what strikes my fancy when my schedule allows my fancy to be struck, and not associate any pressure, no matter how small or self-induced it may be, with reading.

As far as reading outside of the RMBCC, I read:

1. A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Philip Keller

2. Be Still my Soul by Elisabeth Elliot (started a book study with my sisters for this one)

3. The Moffat Museum by Eleanor Estes (reading aloud to Jubilee)

Six books were left on the list, but I don’t feel bad about that at all. I added several books to my Very Favorites list, which is quite an accomplishment in this world wherein there is no end to the making of dumb books.

We’ll talk more about New Year plans later. Have a happy holiday!


12 Things You May Not have Known about Mother Mary

EP 12 things mother mary

Mary, Mother of Jesus has been studied, glorified, admired, iconified and revered. Though various denominations celebrate her life and her role in the faith in different ways, there’s no denying the fact that, for Bible-believers, Mary is an important character in God’s story. We all know that she was chosen to be Jesus mother through immaculate conception, that she journeyed on a donkey and gave birth-to the savior of the world no less-in a stable. We see her depicted as a woman in a blue head covering, a glowing angelic creature, an extremely pious and pure saint. However, there is more to Mary than a nativity scene. We would do well to remember that she started off much like you and I, not knowing what her life would hold, trying to honor her God. Since Christmas is right around the corner, I’ve been thinking about Mary a lot and I thought I’d share 12 things you may not have known about mother Mary.

1. Her name is Egyptian

Well, kind of. The Hebrew form of her name is Miryam (such as Moses’ sister, Miriam.) Some scholars believe that Moses, Aaron and Miriam were all originally Egyptian names, which would make some sense seeing as the Hebrew people had been living in Egypt for hundreds of years. If this is the case, then Miryam was probably derived from the Egyptian words Mery or Meryt which means “cherished” or “beloved” (think “merit.”) There is still debate about the origin of the name, but knowing that God often inspired people to name their children something very particular, “cherished” would seem fitting for the mother of Jesus.

2. She may have made her own match

I was always taught that Mary was probably only 13 or 14 when she was betrothed to Joseph and that it was most likely an arranged marriage, but I’ve recently read that in Jesus’ day, women were often given a say in their choice of spouse. Going back as far Isaac and Rebekah, Rebekah was given the chance to turn down the match that had been proposed for her. Matchmaking was certainly prevalent (and still is in Israel!) but it’s nice to think that, maybe, Mary and Joseph were grade school sweethearts (because yes-she probably was very young!)

3. Betrothal=Marriage

Breaking off an engagement was like getting a divorce. For Joseph to break his commitment to Mary would’ve meant a lifetime of shame. Still, he was a pretty noble person to go through with it considering the unusual circumstances.

4. She was quite the poet

Outside of the Catholic church, Mary’s song (also called The Magnificat) is often overlooked, but it is a beautiful glimpse into her heart. Moments after embracing her cousin Elizabeth and realizing they were both miraculously carrying babies who would change the world forever, Mary bursts out: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior!” That is, if she spoke in Edwardian English. I’m sure it was beautiful in Aramaic as well. Read the rest of her poem here.

5. She had some serious doubts

When Jesus’ ministry got serious (and by that I mean He was being so controversial that there was a plot to kill Him,) Mary and her other sons came to fetch Him and bring Him home because they thought He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21.) Verses 31-35 give us the impression that she left empty-handed, hurt and bewildered.

6. She was an early Christian

One of the coolest things about Mary, in my opinion, is that she later came to understand Jesus’ teachings. She became part of the early church and Acts 1:14 tells us that she and her other sons were devoted to prayer and to the new body of believers. I would’ve definitely wanted her to be my Sunday school teacher!

7. She had several children

You may want to sit down for this one. Mary did not remain a virgin forever! She and Joseph welcomed several more children into their family after Jesus was born. His brothers are mentioned many times and his sisters are mentioned in Matthew 13:56, Mark 6:3

8. She also descended from David

In Luke’s account of Jesus’ life, he actually notes Mary’s genealogy instead of Joseph’s (yay moms!) This family tree shows that she too was descended from the Davidic line. Which is helpful, since Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ biological father, so-to-speak.

9. She was (probably) an introvert

No, I did not ask Mary myself, so I could be totally off. But watching the way she responds and reacts throughout the story, I feel like we have reason to suspect she was introvert. Luke tells us that Mary “pondered these things and treasured them in her heart.” That sounds like a brown study to me.

10. She once misplaced her kid (yes, that would be Jesus)

You know those frazzled moms who accidentally leave their kids at Walmart or lose them at theme parks? Well, Mary was once one such frazzled mom. When Joseph and Mary decided to take their kids on their annual trip to Jerusalem for Passover (I’m picturing a Kosher ren fest,) they had such a good time, they forgot to count heads when they headed back to Nazareth. There were probably several families traveling together and everyone just assumed Jesus, by that time twelve years old, was hanging out with one of his other friends. They actually traveled for an entire day before realizing their mistake and, like any good mother, Mary panicked. After three days, they finally found Him in the Temple, “sitting among teachers, listening to them and asking questions.” I cannot imagine her relief…and confusion!

11. The Apostle John looked after her when Jesus was gone

There really was no such thing as an independent woman in the society Mary lived in. By the time Jesus was crucified, she had presumably been a widow for some time. Though Jesus’ words from the cross, “Woman, behold your son” sound harsh when we read them, this was actually His last act of love and honor to her before He died. Presumable, the Apostle John was being commissioned to look after Mary as if she were his own mother and Mary was being told to rely on John as she would a son. John was called “the apostle Jesus loved” and so it isn’t any wonder this responsibility went to him.

12. She was super brave

From the very beginning of her story, we see Mary to be a truly courageous individual. When the angel appears in her own home, she is startled, but keeps her head. When she is told she will have a child while she is still a virgin, she is puzzled but then goes on to quickly say, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38.) Then she had to go through the shame and torture of being an unwed mother in ancient Hebrew culture, the long journey to Bethlehem during labor and childbirth in a animal’s stall. Then there was the threat on her child’s life which the Maji warned her of, the flight to Egypt and then the job of raising the Messiah as her own child. Then she went through the confusion of His ministry (He wasn’t anything like the Messiah the Jews had been expecting) and the doubts about God’s plans. She had to hear the news when her cousin John the Baptist is beheaded, go through the loss of her husband and ultimately see her son tortured and crucified in the most horrific way. I can almost see the knowing look in her eyes, so full of sorrow and joy, as she breaks bread in the upper room with the early church. This lady saw it all, and through the ups and downs, she ultimately put her trust in God. What an awesome person we will get to meet one day in Heaven! What a perfect choice God made when He sent His son into the arms of a young mother. 

How to Celebrate St. Lucia’s Day

how to celebrate st. lucia's day

Why us?

Yesterday, as I ran a few errands by myself, I decided to try to find some new radio stations to listen to while I was in the car. I’ve recently been “broadening my horizons” by reading books, blogs, and news articles from different perspectives. No more tunnel vision, I’ve told myself. Monday I listened to NPR (and found it fascinating) and also followed them on Facebook which has been great. Yesterday I came across our local Catholic radio station and, though I enjoyed listening in, it confirmed something for me: I’m not Catholic!

So why would I be so excited about celebrating a saint’s day, you may wonder? Well, for starters, my great-great grandmother came over on a boat from Sweden (I wrote about that at Kindred Grace a while back.) She brought with her a recipe for powdered doughnuts for which I will always be indebted to her. She also brought the tradition of celebrating Saint Lucia’s Day on December 13th. The tradition has been passed down by each generation as a way to kick off The Twelve Days of Christmas and it has become, as I recently told a friend, a very important holiday in my family. Just as most Americans, Catholic or otherwise, recognize Saint Patrick’s Day and Saint Valentine’s Day, my family recognizes a day honoring an Italian saint very special to our homeland of Sweden.

A Brief History Lesson

The history of Saint Lucia is a bit muddled, as many stories from some 300 years AD tend to be, but it is generally believed that Lucia was an Italian Christian who was martyred when she refused to marry a nonbeliever. She is now the patron saint of Syracuse.  There are many other stories about her (some quite gory!) but the most famous is probably the story of her service to the persecuted Christians who had fled to the catacombs under Rome. Supposedly, this kindhearted girl wore a crown of candles to light her way as she carried food down to the hungry believers.

So why is she so popular in Sweden? Well many years after her martyrdom in 304AD, Lucia is said to have arrived on a ship to Sweden during a famine and saved the Swedish people from starvation. Whatever it was that Lucia actually did and no matter where, she is now a symbol of faith and hope in Italy, Sweden and even Texas, now that my family has settled there! Our neighbors are even becoming acquainted with St. Lucia’s Day!

What We Do

Traditionally, the eldest daughter rises early and bakes “lussekatter;” a type of sweet, saffron bun. She then dons a white robe, red sash (the symbol of martyrdom) and a crown of Lingonberry branches and white candles and serves her family in bed. Our family’s tradition is to all get up at a decent hour and make our great-grandmother’s Swedish doughnut recipe. She used to make these doughnuts whenever they had guests (lucky travelers!) and we’ve adopted the recipe as our “lussekatter” because it’s Swedish, it’s from our family and, most importantly, it’s one of the most delicious things you’ll ever taste.

After frying a double batch of doughnuts and rolling them in powdered sugar, my older sisters does indeed don a crown! We have a plastic wreath of evergreen with battery-powered candles. Hey, we don’t need to celebrate with flaming hair to remember our ancestry!

As we eat our doughnuts and drink our coffee and milk, we usually each take a turn wearing the crown because-hell0-you only get this chance once a year. Then we all gather in the living room where our Christmas tree is standing tall and luminous. By December 13th, our tree is already surrounded by 70+ gifts! These are the gifts the siblings all exchange with each other. We do not exchange gifts on Christmas Day because, there being nine of us, that became too chaotic and factory-like. We each choose something for the other eight (usually something small like a book, a scarf, a movie or a coffee cup) and wrap them anytime between Thanksgiving Day and Saint Lucia’s Day. Then, one at a time, we go and choose our gifts for our siblings from the tree and watch as they all open at once. It’s great fun to make so many people happy at the same time.

After this, we sit around the fireplace and look at our loot…probably drink more coffee and eat more doughnuts. Later we usually deliver a plate to our neighbors. We also have an Advent devotional that evening, with our wreath of candles lit on the coffee table. I think it’s wonderful that the message for December 13th is usually about light!

We’ll also probably read Lucia: Saint of Light  by Katherine Bolger Hyde, which is just a simple picture book about the real “Lucy” for whom the day is named. The focus of the day is on Jesus being our light, which is what Saint Lucy represents for us. She walked into the dark catacombs where we thought God had forgotten us and brought us light and nourishment. Rather than hiding her light, she died for her faith.

So if you want to join us in celebrating this year, make sure your family knows that December 13th is Saint Lucia’s Day! Grab yourself a copy of Lucia: Saint of Light on Amazon or print out some facts about her from the internet. Find a traditional Lussekatter recipe or your favorite sweet breakfast (beignets, scones…whatever floats your boat.) Find candles…lots of candles! Maybe even make a wire crown and add some holly? Then think on Jesus Our Light as you enjoy your breakfast. Maybe hide some trinkets in the tree to commemorate the occasion. Carry a plate of goodies to someone you know or want to know. (My mother used to drive to her grandmother’s house to deliver doughnuts when they still lived in the same town.) And then, enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas!

Beyond Pop-Up Books: 8 Christmasy Titles to Put You in the Spirit

EP beyond pop-up books

Disclaimer: this post contains a few modest affiliate links. At no cost to you, your clicks and purchases support a struggling blogger. ;)

Eyrie Park is home to thousands of books. There are books in every bedroom, in the den and living room, in the kitchen and in closets. At Christmas time, we empty a couple of high cabinets and put out baskets and seasonal reads. We have many picture books about Baby Jesus, Santa Claus and snow. We have pop-up books and easy readers and beautifully illustrated picture books that get read at this time each year, preferably by a blazing fire!

However, in the past few years I’ve realized that Christmasy reading doesn’t have to be a contained in a 32 page hardback about a reindeer with a red nose, which is why I’ve compiled this list of chapter books perfect for cozy December nights. Several of them would be great to read aloud to kiddos, others are intended for adults. Without further adieu, I give you 8 Christmasy Titles to Put You in the Spirit. :)

1. The Coat-hanger Christmas Tree by Eleanor Estes

I have been an avid Estes fan since I was a wee lassie. I cannot exactly explain why I love her books so much. There’s something special about them. I think it’s the way she wrote real life into her children’s books without being preachy, dramatic or dull. They’re just great. I didn’t read The Coat-hanger Christmas Tree until I was a young adult, and it will never replace Ginger Pye in my heart, but I did really like it. In the New England based tale, ten-year-old Marianna desperately wants a Christmas tree but her mother refuses to be “like every tom-dick-and-harry.” As we know, kids find their own ways of doing things, hence the Christmas tree made of coat-hangers. Sadly, this gem is out of print, but I know you could find yourself a copy. You can do it!

2. The True Saint Nicolas: Why He Matters by William Bennett

This title was new to me last year, but I gobbled it up in time to lend it to my grandmother when we saw her for Christmas. She and I both agree, it’s a fascinating little book! If you’re like me, you’ve heard of Santa Claus/Old Saint Nick/Father Christmas your whole life and had some random ideas of who these mythical characters came from, but no clear story in your mind. This book quickly covers the real person named Saint Nicolas, the myths and legends about him, the other mythical characters who have been combined with Saint Nicolas over the years and the origin of our modern “Santa Claus” traditions, such as why he leaves gifts in our stockings, etc. Mostly it’s just interesting and super fun. It made me excited for Christmas and for teaching my little siblings about a real man who exemplified the true meaning of Christmas many a year ago.


3. Christmas with Anne by L. M. Montgomery

L. M. Montgomery, Christmas…how could you go wrong? This little collection of stories features our beloved Anne-with-an-E in her tale of puffed sleeves (real Anne fans could never forget that one) and fifteen other heartwarming, holiday tales. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read the entire book yet, but I know it will be delightful. Montgomery’s eloquence set in P.E.I. during Christmastide will make me throw another log on the fire, I’m sure.

4. Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

Didn’t know Tolkien wrote a Christmas book, did ya? Well, he kind of did, at least. This lovely book is a compilation of letters Tolkien’s children received in the mail every December “from Father Christmas.” The letters detail life at The North Pole, the life and work of the author (Santa) and included original artwork. If you get this book, you will love Christmas a little bit more. And maybe wish Tolkien was your dad.


5. The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

Ann’s long time love of the Advent season finally bore a book last year! If you’ve followed her Advent devotional in the past, you are familiar with the stunning way she weaves the entire love story (Bible) into Christmas. Her writings completely changed how I view Jesus’ genealogy (it actually matters-a lot!) and the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day. Grab a copy early and work your way through the season. You won’t regret it.

6. The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L’engle

You know her from A Wrinkle in Time and some really deep theological books, but you might not know that she penned a winter’s tale as well! In this little book (complete with twenty-four short chapters) the Austin family lets you in on their holiday traditions each day of Advent. There’s a lose, sweet plot happening all along. The ending may make you sigh with joy. Maybe.

7. A Quiet Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott

I’ll read anything by Alcott. She’s my literary heroine. This is a short story by Alcott which I enjoyed when I was younger but would probably bawl through today, simply because it’s about a girl who needs a family. Patty cannot bear another day in the orphanage. Even after a family finally does come for Patty, it is only because they need a servant. But there is one person who does care about Patty! Will Patty find her family in time for Christmas?! I especially enjoy reading about the origin of this story: “The young Lukens girls had written to Miss Alcott telling her that they were so inspired by the examples of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, that they, too, were launching their own literary publication.Soon the Lukens girls received a very special gift-a Christmas story from Miss Alcott about a lonely orphan girl who finds a family to love her. Following its publication, the story stayed in an old magazine until many years later, a reader chanced upon it.” (From Amazon) Kate’s Choice is another very sweet Christmas tale by Alcott.

8. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

If you’ve never read this before, you need to get yourself a cute little copy like mine and get to it! It’s a very un-intimidating read. You may know the story from various plays or picture books or (heaven forbid) Mickey Mouse movies, but Dickens wasn’t just a story teller, he was a writer. You must read it in his own words at least once. It has some fantastic little quotes. It definitely touched my heart!

What books do YOU love to read at this time of the year? Share in the comments!

how to truly end waste

spanish moss

This post is part of a series. Part One, Part Two.

I am hesitant to sign up to host an angel, because I’m not always a perfect hostess. What if I’m in a bad mood and fail to make conversation or I burn the casserole and forget to buy butter? And yet, when scripture says some of us will “entertain angels unawares” we are being warned not to neglect showing hospitality to strangers. Do we not think that human strangers also report to God? That He is not watching them just as closely as He watches His angels? We are to be hospitable to everyone (never knowing if they are an angel or “merely” a child of God.)

I think we tend to keep our planet and it’s animals, eco-system and human life very separate from the spiritual realm. Stories of miracles and angels interacting with mortality are like quick visions of meteors streaming across our view of the milky way. If you believe in them at all, you think they happen once in a blue moon and never guess that you yourself might be looking up when such a thing occurs.

That is probably why it has taken me so long to write this series. I had a lot of thoughts on waste, but they all seemed disconnected. There was the truth that kept sinking deeper into my mind that God wastes nothing in our lives, not even pain or loss. And then there was the ordinary type of waste. Actual trash we put in our dumpsters and time we spend worrying about our crooked mouth and un-plucked (or as I like to call them, “free range”) eyebrows.

I do believe in meteors and I believe that sometimes they crash into planets or other things in space before they burn out, like a miraculous meeting of two kindred spirits (only a little more explosive.) That’s the way this series was born. Suddenly I realized that my thoughts were connected. All waste is the same. Everything comes from God. God wastes nothing. We waste everything.

Material waste is a huge, huge issue in our world. Not only is it greatly hurting the planet itself, it is hurting people directly. I recently read that 1.3 billion tons of food produced world wide is wasted or lost each year. (That’s 1/3 of the annual production.) While some of this food is lost or wasted in production, most of it is wasted by consumers, particularly in the United States. In 2010, an estimated 33 million tons of food waste went into U.S. landfills and incinerators.

How is this hurting people? A billion people are malnourished today.

While I was whining about what was on my plate and wishing I could throw my stir-fry to the dog, my baby brother was being born in Port-Au-Prince and growing a huge, bloated belly. Waste hurts people because they need what we are throwing away.

Do you know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? Do you know why God had to burn the whole county down with fire from heaven?

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49, emphasis mine.)

And that’s when I realized how to truly end waste. Waste has a natural enemy, and it’s not recycling. The natural enemy of waste is gratitude.


You never, ever throw away something you are truly grateful for. I was not grateful for the ice left in my cup after drinking a glass of water, but the children at the orphanage would clobber for the sink to grab it from the drain, grateful (if not also a little greedy.) We throw away food and clothing and time and relationships because we simply don’t appreciate them. We do not bow our faces to the floor and thank God for the things we scrape off of our plates.

When you cultivate a heart of gratitude, you cease to waste. And when you see the gift and the beauty and grace in everything that comes your way, you never think of throwing it out. You keep it, you use it, you share it, but you don’t waste it.

If the people of Sodom had taken their excess of food and used it to aid the poor and needy, we would’ve know they were not proud. They would’ve been a grateful, humble people, probably honored in scripture rather than held up as an example of despicableness. That’s the irony of the holiday season. We want more, grab more, covet more and waste more during this season than any other. Why can’t we see that we have more to be grateful for than we have to complain about? Why don’t we see that we are filthy, filthy, filthy rich?

In her wonderful book, Discipline: The Glad SurrenderElisabeth Elliot writes:

“The goodness and love of God choose the gifts, and we say thank you, acknowledging the Thought Behind as well as the thing itself. Covetousness involves suspicion about the goodness and love of God, and even His justice. He has not given me what He gave somebody else. He doesn’t notice my need. He doesn’t love me as much as He loves him. He isn’t fair.

Faith looks up with open hands. “You are giving me this, Lord? Thank you. It is good and acceptable and perfect.” Pg. 108

So back up a bit, look at the big picture. The sky is full of meteors and you’ve been given eyes to see.

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