Saturday, September 21, 2013

Summer Reading

Happy Fall!

The days are crisp, the leaves are changing... Wait, this is Texas.  But it is about 20 degrees cooler today than it has been!  Maybe it's not going to be blazing hot for another month after all.  One can always hope.

I came up with the idea for this post as I looked at the growing stack of books on my nightstand.  I used to be the type of person who finished one book before starting another.  Lately, though, I've started a habit of having a few books going at a time- usually each is in a different genre- but I have so little time to read, that I don't like waiting for weeks to start a book I'm interested in.  So I rotate and when I have a free minute, I grab whatever book I'm in the mood for and read that one.  I'm a very fast reader, and that's a good thing considering my limited time.

I kicked off my reading with Rumsfeld's Rules on Memorial Day weekend.  Here's what I read the rest of the summer.

Books to the Kids
I try really, really hard- but not always successfully- to read to the kids before bed.  I have fond recollections of my dad reading to me and I want my kids to look back with the same warm memories.  I have found that it is extremely important that I enjoy the book we're reading.  If I don't, I seem to find a million excuses- too late, too tired, too wild- to skip our evening reading.  Here are a few of that we enjoyed:

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle- This book is hilarious.  Mrs. Piggle Wiggle comes up with all sorts of "cures" for childhood ailments.  Like the Radish Seed Cure for the little girl who refused to bathe.  When she started sprouting seeds, she hopped in the tub with no complaining.  We all laughed and exchanged many a knowing glance as we read.

Raiders from the Sea- This Viking adventure was just a touch slow.  We read a lot about what the characters were thinking and feeling, and the moments of action were few and far between.  I probably wouldn't have noticed that if I had been reading it to myself, but reading aloud is so much slower, that some of the introspection got to be a little tedious.  Justin, though, really loved it and made sure we read every night.

Journey to the Blue Moon-  We've read other things by this author (The Dragon of Lonely Island) and we knew we'd love this one.  In this fantasy, people are transported to the Blue Moon (which only happens once in a... well, you get the idea) to find things that they've lost.  Thanks to some creative villains, the Blue Moon is a pretty treacherous place, and we had a hard time putting this one down at night.

Black Ships Before Troy- This is a beautiful adaptation of the myth surrounding the Trojan War for children.  Once again, Justin is entranced.  We have a nicely illustrated copy and he stares at the pictures throughout the day.  "Mom, I think I like the Greeks better.  The Trojans never should have stolen that woman.  But why does Achilles have such a bad temper?"

Books for the Kids
I don't read everything before my kids read it, but certain things require a little extra research before I hand them over to them.

39 Clues- Very addictive, in a "I can't stop reading this even though I know it's not necessarily the best literature available" kind of way.  I did stop after the first book (okay, maybe the second) because life is too short for me to read endless kids' fiction.  Nathan and Megan like them, though.

The Hunger Games- Because Everyone has read it.  I haven't met Everyone, but apparently, he gets around.  He's the same Everyone who eats McDonald's, drinks soda at school and plays video games all day.  "Can I read it, Mom, puhleease??"  Answer: No.  Just because something has been written- even written engagingly- and Everyone has read it doesn't mean it's worth reading.  From a worldview perspective, this was confused and disturbing.  I'm a little worried about Everyone.

Books to Make Me Think
I went to the Society for Classical Learning conference this summer and there were so many great speakers! I left with a long list of books to read, and I've made varying progress, in between lesson planning and other life craziness, through these three:

All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes-  Ken Myers, of Mars Hill Audio, spoke at the conference, and I got an opportunity to speak to him briefly in between sessions.  His insight on culture and how a Christian ought to engage it is filled with wisdom.  I was especially fascinated by the way he distinguishes between pop culture (which is inherently wedded to the throwing off of a community's values)  and folk culture (which is firmly rooted in a community's beliefs and standards.)  I'd call this a must read.  I wasn't just encouraged and challenged by this, I actually enjoyed reading it.

From Achilles to Christ-  Louis Markos was another conference speaker, and if I had to pick a favorite (a tough call, to be sure) is would be Professor Markos.  He spoke on CS Lewis and other topics, and I went right to the book table to buy something he had written.  They were sold out.  That's okay!  There's always Amazon.  This particular book is subtitled Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics.  He makes some interesting arguments and points to a faint glimmer of God's truth- imperfect, of course- in the pagan literature.  Fascinating.

The Devil Knows Latin-  Professor Christian Kopff led a couple of the sessions I went to at the conference, and he was a close runner up for my favorite.  He made a convincing case for the need for classical, Latin-based education in America today.  (So maybe he was preaching to the choir, but it's always nice to have someone brilliant back up one's convictions.)  His book, after hearing him speak, is delightful.  Some of it seems a bit rabbit-trailish, but his writing comes across just as he does in person.  I liked the book, but it might seem a little like inside baseball to many.  It's got a great title, though!  (The title, since I know you're just dying for me to tell you, comes from a story.  "Ronald Knox, a wise and witty Catholic priest, when asked to perform a baptism in the vernacular, refused...'The baby does not understand English and the Devil knows Latin.'" from the book, pg. xv)

Books for Fun
I admit it.  I am a fan of the thriller.  I do not read romance novels, I do not read books about vampires, but I DO love a good CIA tale. I was a big fan of Vince Flynn and was saddened to hear of his premature passing.  I tried a few new authors this summer to fill the void.

The Kill Artist-  an Israeli undercover operative who restores great works of art.  You can't really go wrong with that.  I enjoyed this, but I still missed Flynn's Mitch Rapp.  Maybe, though, once I get better acquainted with the series, I'll make friends with Gabriel Allon too.

The Faithful Spy- This one was a bit of a twist on the more typical spy novel.  It was interesting.  I haven't decided whether or not I'm a fan of Berenson's John Wells yet.  I was able to take a couple of weeks on this book- not something I can say for Vince Flynn.  I usually read those in a day or two.  The book was engaging, but just not of the "I can barely keep my eyes open but I still can't put this book down" variety.  I plan to read more in this series as well, though.

A Book from the List
I've had a list of books that I've wanted to read for a long time.  Every once in awhile, I finally get around to reading one.  Some of them I've hated (Moby Dick) others I wondered why I took so long to discover such a great read (Oliver Twist.)  This one was in the second category.

The Iliad- I read the Lattimore translation, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I had thought, for some reason, that it was going to be hard to read, but I found it entertaining and beautiful, and the language really wasn't difficult.  (Thanks, Dad, for having me memorize verses in the King James Version when I was three.)  I was delighted that reading it didn't feel like a chore, and I could, in fact, see myself reading this again.

So that's what I read this summer!  I'm always open to book recommendations (although my list is long and getting longer.)  Have any favorites I should try?

Friday, September 13, 2013


Teacher are such creative people.  Especially when it comes to homework assignments.  They have so many great ideas.  Like making homemade pizza to learn about fractions.  (Does ordering Papa John's and cutting it yourself count?)  Or making a model of Jamestown.  (Thanks for that one, Mrs. P.)  Last week, though, I fell victim to my own creative lesson planning.

Nathan is in a couple of my classes, and he was especially excited about my weekend journaling assignment.  I had listed forty, that's forty, journaling prompts and instructed the students to choose one.  "Okay," he announced after looking at the list, "I am going to make dinner for the family tonight and write about it."

"Which one did you choose?  The one about your ideal vacation?" I ask.  Surely I heard wrong.  Nathan doesn't even like to make his own sandwiches.

"Nope.  The one with the dinner."

I experienced a moment of terror.  A vision of a demolished kitchen, complete with blackened pans, flashed before my eyes.  Oh, wait, I had included in the prompt that the student had to clean it up himself.  Well, at least my teacher creativity insanity was balanced with a little common sense.  I also realized at this point that I had borrowed the idea for this particular prompt from a colleague I met at a conference.  And he doesn't have kids.  Figures.

Nathan grabbed my cookbooks and started to make out his menu.  As he put his grocery list together, I subtly made little hints to try to minimize the damage.  Olive lentil burgers, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pound cake sounded delicious!  And messy, really messy.  How about Boca Chik'n, baked potatoes, and, well, okay, pound cake?  Coconut Lemon Pound Cake with Lemon Glaze, to be precise.  He went along with that.

I took a deep breath once the groceries were unpacked and tried to plan out my strategy.  When I was growing up, my mom would let me loose in the kitchen and just tell me to make sure it was cleaned up before she came back in.  I wasn't confident enough to pull that off, and personality-wise, I'm probably more like my grandmother, who, looking over my shoulder, once told me I was stirring the batter in the wrong direction.  I decided to go for a balance between the two.  Available, but not intrusive.

And then I got to observe Nathan at work.  He attacked the task very mathematically.  What time are we eating?  How long does each item take?  When should he start?  And how long does it take to preheat the oven?  Once he had made all of his necessary calculations, he got to work.

"Always read the recipe all the way through first," I told him as he started the pound cake.

"Well, of course, Mom, can you imagine if I started to flash a new ROM to my phone and forgot to back up my old ROM?  There goes your data!"  he laughed.

I laughed too, but not because I understood what he was saying.

As he poured in the oil, he said, "Check this out!  Who says vegan has to be healthy?  This cake is like a dirty little vegan secret."

I must say I was impressed.  He measured carefully, followed each step exactly, and was actually very proficient.  Dinner was a hit with everyone, and he DID clean up the kitchen.

Let's hear it for creative teachers!

Thursday, September 5, 2013


"So do you think that something Christians would think is significant might one day happen on Rosh Hashanah?" my friend asked, as I bustled around getting things ready for the substitute teachers who were going to take over my classes so that I could be off for the holiday.

"Could be!"  I replied.

The idea that the Old Testament feasts found in Leviticus 23 might have some sort of fulfillment in the future is a somewhat popular one.  It might seem silly- the ravings of so many end times madmen- except for one thing:  It's happened before.  Three holidays (four if you count Unleavened Bread) have actually had a significant event happen that in some way fulfilled their original purpose.

Passover was originally established as a memorial of the Exodus.  "'And it shall be, when your children say to you, "What do you mean by this service?" that you shall say, "It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck down the Egyptians and delivered our households."'" (Exodus 12:26-27)  The story of redemption, however, was fulfilled when Jesus, our Passover lamb, was sacrificed for us.  The symbolism of His death wasn't just partial, though.  He actually did die on Passover, on the very date.  Then, He was resurrected on the very next holiday in line, Firstfruits.

These events weren't seen as mere coincidence by the early believers.  Paul explicitly states that Jesus is "our Passover" (1 Cor. 5:7) and also, since He rose from the dead, He is the "firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." (1 Cor. 15:20)  In fact, the entire book of 1 Corinthians is replete with Passover terminology.  Our freedom from sin, for example, is likened to purging out the "old leaven," an important rite during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  The early believers knew that Jesus Himself had made the feast/fulfillment connection when He shared that final meal with His disciples.  As they celebrated the Passover together, He made sure that they would one day understand the new layer of meaning His death would add to the ancient tradition: "Do this in remembrance of Me."  And even Christians today are familiar with Pentecost, though perhaps not all realize that the Holy Spirit was given on a day that had already been a holiday for thousands of years.

So it's not entirely implausible that the other feasts (there are seven yearly feasts: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles and one weekly: the Sabbath) might find a prophetic fulfillment at some point in the future.  God likes doing things like that, it seems.  What then, might we be looking forward to on Rosh Hashanah in the future?

Rosh Hashanah means "Head of the Year" and it's currently celebrated as the Jewish New Year.  Some historians suspect that its celebration as the new year might have arisen sometime during the Babylonian captivity, but the evidence is a bit murky.  Biblically speaking, the start of the new year is Nisan, the month of Passover (March or April) and that's pretty clearly spelled out in Exodus 12:1-2.  The Bible's name for Rosh Hashanah isn't actually Rosh Hashanah at all!  It's called Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of blowing the shofar.)  It was commemorated by blowing the shofar (ram's horn) and, in the book of Nehemiah, reading the Word of God.

When Christians think of the blowing of a shofar- a great trumpet- our minds turn to the day, the "mystery," when "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed."  (1 Cor. 15:51-52)  And on that day, "we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord."  (1 Thess. 4:15-17)

And maybe, just maybe, it will be Rosh Hashanah.