Commonplace Book, 43

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Are you sick of cookies? I nearly am, except these double chocolate crinkle cookies, which I’m looking for an excuse to make again.
  • A couple days before Christmas I embarked on the horror show that is cut out cookies. Why are they just the worst? I love baking with my kids, but the whole process was painful — the rolling out, P’s inability to cut near the edge, the dough getting warm and sticky and tearing. I had such fond memories of baking cut out cookies with my mom, and when I mentioned it and how much I hated it, Mom responded vaguely, “Oh. I think we only did those once. They were so stressful!” So there you have it, folks: cut out cookies, delighting children and enraging adults since at least the 1980s. If you’re more ambitious than I am, these soft gingerbread cookies taste good, at least.
  • Nothing says Christmastime like cookies and cheese. If you’re looking to use up your spare bits of cheese, you might try this template for fromage fort. I made it for a NYE party, but I kind of want to make another batch to serve over pasta. Except I’d make it with blue stilton and then my marriage would be over.

What I’m reading:

Church bells rule the day: so much so that during the relatively freewheeling 2016-17 academic year […] he wasn’t always sure how to spend his time. “It was actually hard for me, because there wasn’t a dang bell saying, ‘You do it now, then you’re done,'” he says. “I really need more external framework.”

From Here to Timbuktu: A globe-trotting monk with the Benedictine “survival gene” seeks out treasured manuscripts. The piece is interesting, and that bit has me thinking again about how I might revise my mother’s rule of life for life with three kiddos.

  • The Essex Serpent. I wanted to love this — readers I respect loved it — and I made it all the way through and hated it. Every character disappointed me, and I struggled to understand how I was supposed to interpret each action until the author told me. The atmosphere was pleasantly mysterious, but that’s all that it had going for it. I’m an inveterate book abandoner and I wish I’d abandoned this one.
  • Anne’s House of Dreams. Ring in the new year with a good start. And Goodreads told me it’s been five years since I read this one. It’s a strange book, certainly — why are we supposed to believe Leslie’s life is so much more tragic than Anne’s was before Green Gables? Why is Gilbert so damn boring? But there are so many good bits — Captain Jim forever.

“Building community, investing in the lives right in front of us, requires us to take the long view. Eugene Peterson refers to this type of relationship as ‘a long obedience in the same direction.'”


Read Your Own Books

If it hadn’t started by the time I began working in libraries, it started then. Some of it was good: I realized if I had enjoyed a book but probably wouldn’t need it again, I could give it away rather than hoarding it and borrow it back if necessary. But along with this swing toward (comparative) book shelf minimalism came a new problem.

My book collection started shifting toward a higher concentration of unread books. I was getting rid of more books I had read, and at the same time neglecting unopened books on my shelves less often because I was tempted by all the new books passing my way at the circ desk.

J and I are trying to tamp down our Amazon habit (cutting down on cardboard to be hauled to the curb, if nothing else!) and it seems like a good time to focus on the good I’ve got, not the next thing down the Amazon rabbit hole.

So for 2018, I’m committing to reading my own books. I can buy books for my book clubs, and books for the kids, but otherwise I’ve got to work through my own shelves. Here are some I’m looking forward to:

  • Not God’s Type
  • a Rumer Godden biography I found in a box of free books last spring
  • Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry — started at least twice before I got distracted.
  • Shirt of Flame: A Year with St Therese of Liseux
  • The Catholic Church and Conversion by GK Chesterton
  • English Lessons — a loaner from Emily.
  • The Blythes Are Quoted — started and abandoned because it’s boring, but I NEED to know and if I could get through Go Set a Watchman I can do anything.
  • Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit — as I write this my children are playing with Legos and facetiming my parents…
  • Numbering My Days: How the Liturgical Calendar Rearranged My Life  — from my mother-in-law, and neglected for at least a year.
  • A Green and Pleasant Land: How England’s Gardeners Fought the Second World War

And…that’s probably only half of the neglected books lying around here, max. I don’t know that in December I’ll make myself get rid of all the ones I haven’t read, but I’d like at the end of the year to have things pared down and opinions to report back to you on most of the books above.

Do you do new years (or Advent) resolutions? What are yours?

2017 in Books

(For 2016 and before, check out this post.)

So, I hit my goal of one book a week this year, due in large part to fetal first trimester reading holed up in my bed (shout out to my mother’s helpers to making this happen!) and lying in binge reading. I couldn’t have done it without you, crappy pregnancy!

Among the 50-ish books I read, here are notables and favorites:

Nonfiction Nominees

We’ve got a faith and vocation thing going here as it starts to look like I’ll be home full time for the foreseeable future, so I might as well figure out what that means to me, my home, and the world.

Fiction Nominees

In other trends, audiobooks are still going strong and I officially can’t read a library book without it coming overdue, so that’s the season we are in I guess. Our little free library finally got its first book from someone other than me — a Baha’i faith book — but I’m counting that a win, too. And I’m enjoying reading aloud chapter books to Pip, too, even if I’ve lost a bit of ground on my own reading.

What did your year of reading look like? What was the best book you read in 2017?

My Man In the Wing Chair

While I was spending my first (always insomniac) night postpartum in the hospital, J and Roo snoring softly on either side, I read The Awakening of Miss Primsomething I’d been meaning to read for ages. Unsurprisingly, given all the recommendations I’d received, I loved it.

Prudencia Prim is a practical modern woman looking for escape, who finds it in the eccentric job posting for a private librarian in a small French town. She soon finds herself working for the equally frustrating and charming Man in the Wing Chair, organizing his enviable private library and taking part — somewhat unwillingly — in the life of the household, where he’s raising his nieces and nephews and educating others from the village. Almost despite herself, Miss Prim is drawn in to the unusual community, challenging everything she held dear.

Along the way, she receives the wonderful advice:

“You must not aspire to finding a husband who’s your equal, but one who’s absolutely and completely better than you.”

This was something I took for granted in my parents’ marriage: it was always obvious that each believed the other had settled. My mom admired my dad; my dad admired my mom. And so I set out to find a boy who was my superior, and, like my parents before me, lucked out: John Bowers, a constant inspiration to me to be more kind, patient, energetic, creative.

(Warning: mild Awakening of Miss Prim spoilers)

Like the Man in the Wing Chair, he’s brimming with bookish ideas and convictions and cheerful rants. One of the lines in which the Man in the Wing Chair most reminded me of my husband was this one:

“He wasn’t delightful in arguments, or in debates: he wouldn’t yield an inch concerning what he believed to be true, and he had no mercy with opponents when he saw they weren’t on his level.”

J is a formidable debater who argued several friends into the Catholic Church before succumbing himself. His conviction in debate can make me nervous — I spend a lot of energy monitoring people’s feelings and worry about hurting someone. But his bravery in arguing for the truth reminds me I could stand to gain in tenacity.

One piece reveals the author’s inspirations in crafting her protagonist, exclaiming: “How could one not want to read a novel in which the male protagonist is a composite of C.S. Lewis, John Senior and Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma!” While I’m not familiar with John Senior, except by name, biographies of C. S. Lewis have often reminded me of J: intellectually fleet and tough, slightly intimidating in intensity, boisterous with joy. And while Emma isn’t my favorite Austen novel, Mr. Knightley is definitely one of my favorite Austen heroes, one who’s absolutely and completely superior to Emma.

Another passage that struck me as familiar is this one, in which a friend characterizes the Man to Miss Prim:

“And there’s a third group, to which your Man in the Wing Chair belongs, whose aim is to escape from the dragon. They want to protect their children from the influences of the world, to return to the purity of old customs, recover the splendor of an ancient culture.”

Especially in this season, when J’s been able to take a lot of parental leave, I’ve seen all the big and small ways he seeks to protect our kids and “return to the purity of old customs” as he helps educate our kids, reads them books by the fire and leads them in Christmas carols on his violin.

We don’t know from the text if the Man in the Wing Chair sports a spectacular beard, like J, or if Miss Prim ends up with her Man in the Wing Chair. But today, on my Man in the Wing Chair’s birthday, I’m so glad I married mine.


The Man in the Wing Chair


Commonplace Book, 42

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.


What I’m fixing:

  • Still coasting on the kindness of others.
  • Suet, with the kids. Gross, I️ guess. But it uses up pantry odds and ends and seemed an appropriate activity for St Nicholas Day because, you know, generosity. We used:
    • melted bacon grease, beef fat, coconut oil
    • the last bits of: golden raisins, grits, oatmeal, sunflower seeds and chopped peanuts.
    • I read you could add cayenne to scare off other critters and since a friend recently found an opossum in our trashcan, we added some.

We poured the satisfyingly creepy brew into the silicone snowflake mold I thought would be awesome for compound butter (no) and set it on the porch to cool. Then we froze them, popped the pucks out and put one in the mesh bag you get with oranges or onions. Please don’t tell me if one of these ingredients will decimate the local avian population. The kids are so proud.

Classing up the neighborhood

What I’m reading:

  • 11 Ways to Prepare Your Boy to Be a Great Priest or Dad — found and shared by a friend. #4 and #5 made me laugh out loud.
  • How Chickens and Goats Are Helping to Stop Child Marriage
  • The Bear and the NightingaleI’ve been reading this Roo’s whole life (ha!) and can’t decide if it’s worth it or not. Anyone have an opinion one way or another?
  • A Christmas Carolwhich J is reading aloud to me and the kids after the dinner. I think Pippin is getting maybe 10-20% and Scout none at all, but we are communicating something we love, and it’s time we might otherwise allot to TV or more chores. Instead, we sit around the Advent wreath and then the fireplace and kids snuggle with us and we slow down just a bit, and if that’s all they take away from the reading this year, that still seems like a wonderful start.


In other news, occasionally Roo deigns to open her eyes now
This time last year:

    Pippin’s Books of 2017 (Age 4)

    This was the year of a chapter book awakening for Pip — we started with Ramona for reasons I can’t remember and from there he was insatiable. J had been working slowly through Hobbit and others since Pippin was twoish but now both adults were reading aloud to him and he was devouring audiobooks during quiet time much faster than I could source them.

    We’ve only just started phonics so the only words he can read himself are “Pippin,” “police,” and “Grandpa” (!!!). We read a lot of picture books for fun, too, but I don’t track those. And his comprehension of these chapter books can vary — he regularly refers to plot details from Beverly Cleary books, but didn’t realize Beth March died until we watched a movie version of Little WomenBut he only has to listen to things that interest him, and I figure even if he doesn’t absorb all of some of the books he listens to, letting the words wash over him is still beneficial, especially if he enjoys it.

    I didn’t keep perfect records but I think he “read” 40-something unique books in 2017, which doesn’t account for the frankly disturbing number of times he wan’t to re-read the Henry Huggins books and other favorites. You can see the full list on Goodreads if you’re interested.

    I thought it would be fun to have him review his year in reading. You can probably tell from his answers he was less enthused!

    • What kind of books do you like?
      • “Police car ones.”
    • What was your favorite book Mama read aloud?
      • Henry Huggins
    • What was your favorite book Papa read aloud?
    • What was your favorite audiobook?
    • Who was your favorite character in a book?
      • “Captain John [from Swallows and Amazons] and also the Boxcar Children, Henry Alden.”
    • What books do you want to read next year?
      • All the same ones I did.
    Reading Swallowdale last month


    Commonplace Book, 41

    What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

    I’m soaking up “maternity leave,” which for a homemaker means having my husband home nearly full time and having meals brought almost every evening. We are still schooling and nursing and laundering and all the rest, but the pace is significantly relaxed.

    I am also counting down to Advent and trying to resist getting a tree till Sunday. It’s not easy, especially since Pip remembered about the feast of St Nicholas and started asking daily when he’ll get candy in his shoes.

    What I’m fixing:

    • Basically nothing. People are bringing us meals, which continues to be just the best. For Thanksgiving I️ fixed slow cooker green bean casserole (double the onions, of course), my mom’s chocolate chip pecan pie, and my mother-in-law’s cranberry sauce, and it was such a joy to cook again, no longer heavy-footed and heartburn-ridden, but I’m grateful that my holiday cooking was just a novelty in this season — it’s such a gift to have dinners taken care of instead of frantically attempting to cook with a clingy baby too small to fit in the Ergo.
    Even cuter than the pie maker in Pushing Daisies

    What I’m reading:

    • The Inquisitor’s Tale, by Adam Gidwitz. I️ don’t know if I️ loved it, but it was certainly awfully interesting:

    “Life is a song, composed and sung by God. We are but characters in His song. […] If we could hear our own songs, if we could see God’s creation the way God does, we would know it’s the most beautiful song there is.”

    • Five Little Peppers and How They Grew: aloud to the kiddos. So far I’m meh, but I was looking for something in the spirit of Little Women and Little Men, which Pip loved as audiobooks, and then I found this at a Little Free Library. At least they’re loving siblings, which can sometimes be hard to find, and it’s very anti-materialist (a la Little Women), just as the Christmas greed sets in.
    • How to Pray As a Busy Family: A Beginner’s Guide — mostly stuff I’d intuited but handily collected in one spot.

    This time last year:

    • Anosmia is a thing you probably didn’t know existed. Now you do.