What I’m Reading: A List for Sam

So, early today I posted a review on EerdWord that got several of us chatting on Facebook about pastors and their recreational reading habits (or frequent lack thereof). 

In the course of our conversation, Rev. Sam Schuldheisz (of E-nklings fame) asked me to recommend five or ten books that I thought might make good downtime literature for pastors. My reply got a little too long for a Facebook comment, so I thought I’d put it here instead, for everyone’s convenience. 

If you’re new to this conversation, I recommend starting with “The Pastor and the English Major” over at EerdWord before reading further.

* * *

Okay, Sam: here goes. This was very tricky to do, by the way — and the resulting list might change tomorrow if I happen to find myself in a different mood. For now, though, here’s my tentative list of recommended recreational reads for pastors.

1. Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
Despite her reputation for lacy period romances, Jane Austen remains one of the world’s foremost social satirists. Her stuff is insightful, cutting, and frequently hilarious. If you want to learn (and laugh) about human nature in all its variety, Austen-land is the place to be. All of her work is good, but for the sake of you male pastors out there who cringe at romance, I’m recommending the one of her novels that feels the least “lovey-dovey” to me.

2. C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
No one can render complex theological concepts as plainly and winsomely as Lewis, and LWW is his magnum opus. Plantinga calls this quality “deep simplicity,” and every pastor would do well to study it.

3. Richard Peck’s Grandma Dowdel books (A Long Way from Chicago, A Year Down Yonder, and A Season of Gifts).
These books will teach you new appreciation for the old, the strong-willed, and the eccentric. Also, there’s almost nobody who can tell a story as well as Richard Peck. I wish I could, but I can’t. If you learn how, let me know, and I’ll drive down (no matter how far) to hear you do it.

4. A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh.
No one is ever too old for Winnie. It seems like we reread it at least once a year as a family, and when we do, no one laughs harder than Ken and I. Somehow, Milne manages to capture astutely the way very small people think and speak, and the result is equal parts wise and humorous. Reading this book is almost guaranteed to improve your children’s sermons.

5. John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
It’s an epic journey well worth taking at least once in your life. (Probably not more than once, though. It’s that epic.)

6. John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie.
I recommend this one especially for the younger guys. Whether you think of it as nonfiction (as Steinbeck claimed it was) or fiction (as some of his critics contend it almost certainly is) it does present a stunning portrait of America in the late 50s and early 60s. If you want to understand better the massive cultural changes your older parishioners have witnessed throughout their adult lives, this is a good place to start. Also, although I’m not a huge fan of Steinbeck’s novels, which I think are bleak and depressing (Plantinga would disagree with me here), I find this book both engaging and triumphant.

7. Jennifer Worth’s Call the Midwife (AKA The Midwife).
This riveting, funny, heart-wrenching memoir, which you may recognize from the PBS series of the same name, is outstanding. What’s more, it consistently affirms the sanctity of life even as it acknowledges candidly how difficult and complicated “life issues” can be.

8. Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games.
You might like it; you might hate it. (I really liked it.) Either way, it’s a quick, exciting read that will help you better make sense of the cynical, uncertain age in which today’s young people find themselves growing up. The book also sneaks in a wealth of ethical conversation starters on everything from the widening wealth gap to media violence to genetic manipulation.

There’s my list. Ten books, if you count the Peck titles separately. Plantinga has his own list, though you’ll have to find a copy of his book to get at it.

What’s on yours?

Snapshot: Harvest 2012

Ooh! Ooh! Guess what?! In the garden today . . .

Wait a sec, though. As keen as I am to tell you about this year’s garden, I just don’t feel right jumping feet first into it without first bringing last summer’s harvest in properly here on Life, Old Fashioned.

To make this ancient history as snappy and painless as possible, though, I’ll let my stockpile of photos do the talking for me over the next couple of “snapshot” posts. By the end, you should all be feeling up to date and ready to move forward with me into this glorious new growing season.

Ready? Here goes nothin’!

Mr. Hubby

Mr. Hubby keeps a diligent eye out for slackers as we all work frantically to get the last of the harvest in before the killing frost.

borrowed sweatshirt

Do you recognize that sweatshirt from the previous photo? As the cold fall weather closed in on us throughout the afternoon, the dear fellow quite literally gave me the shirt off his back. I’m afraid I may have gotten it a little muddy grubbing around in the tomato patch.

busy pixie

Isn’t this busy bee cute in her pixie wings and froggy boots? When the garden only has hours left to live, even the littlest one has to chip in!

The last day.

After a summer of more produce than even we could eat (we gave a lot away), the garden yielded one last enormous harvest on its final day. Thanks, garden! Rest well!


Not pictured in the previous portrait: the pumpkins. Six tiny seedlings took over half the garden and gave us . . . well, a heck of a lot of pumpkins. Many of them ended up feeding the deer when we couldn’t use them all in time. (This year, we’ve started with just three vines, and I’ll rip them out without mercy out if they start to get out of hand again!)

See? That wasn’t so bad!

Coming up in my next “snapshot” post, I’ll show you exactly what we did with all those tomatoes, peppers, and overripe squash after hauling them into the house.

Adventure: I Would Walk 500 Miles (or, at the very least, 14)

Walking sandal

This is not my foot.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I have a ton of stuff stored up to share with you on here on Life, Old Fashioned. But before I begin on that project, I’d say it’s high time I got started on a new old fashioned adventure. Don’t you think so, too?

In my once and future life, I am a runner. Not quite a marathoner, mind you (marathoners go a little beyond even my special strain of crazy), but a long-distance runner nonetheless.

In my present delicate condition, however, I am not a runner.

If I had been running faithfully — daily — vigorously — before the conception of my newest little darling, I could no doubt have kept it up safely throughout at least the early months of my pregnancy.

But alas, I took most of this past [long, cold, icy] winter off. (It seemed like the prudent thing to do, given my recent ankle trauma.) As a result, my fitness level at the beginning of this nine-month odyssey was not quite where it needed to be for me to feel comfortable hitting the pavement in a major way.

According to BabyCenter.com, though, what I should be doing (instead of sitting around drinking vanilla malts and moping about the fact that I’m not running) is walking:

Walking is one of the best cardiovascular exercises for pregnant women because it keeps you fit without jarring your knees and ankles. It’s also a safe activity to continue throughout all nine months of pregnancy and one of the easier ways to start exercising if you haven’t previously been active.

Okay then, you boring pregnancy experts: rather than running my heart out during these gorgeous early summer days, I’ll be walking.

It seems simple enough: pick up one leg, then the other; repeat. It’s even a little like running, except that I can do it in a sundress and sandals. BONUS!

What’s more, it fits extremely well with my old fashioned aesthetic.

After all, the Bible tells me (or at least implies) that Abram and Sarai walked from Ur to Canaan. Moses walked to Sinai. Jesus and his disciples got their feet dirty walking all over Palestine. Literature tells me that Chaucer’s pilgrims walked to Canterbury. Lizzie Bennett famously ended up with her petticoat six inches deep in mud — by walking three miles to Netherfield Park. The four Pevensies made it all the way from Lantern Waste to Cair Paravel to claim their Narnian thrones . . . by walking.

And yet: how often do we fail to walk further in a day than it takes to get from the house to the car to the office and back again? (Or, in my present life, from the chair to the clothesline to the garden to the pool and back to the comfy chair.)

How often are we led to honk at folks who would rather hover indefinitely waiting for a prime parking spot at the supermarket than park in an empty space further out and walk the extra 50 meters?

Just today, in fact, I watched a guy fetch the mail on a four-wheeler as I drove by. (Gotta love that sweet country living!) His driveway could not have been longer than the average tennis court. 

Walking, it would seem, is becoming a lost art in contemporary America.

But we can’t let that happen now, can we?

This, then, is my challenge to myself for the next seven days — and to you, too, if you’d care to join me: I will walk two miles each day, one in the morning and one in the evening.

We live on a country road where even the tractors drive faster than they should, so I sadly won’t be  leaving the property on most of my jaunts. We do, however, also happen to be in possession of a long, loopy driveway, on which one lap around is nearly exactly a quarter mile. So for me, this adventure will essentially mean walking four laps twice a day.

I (we?) can definitely do this.

Why I’ve Been Away . . . Again

Avocado IMGP1105

Q. What’s sweet and darling and approximately the size of an avocado this week?


It’s me again.

Remember me? The odd chick who used to blog about all that old fashioned mumbo jumbo?

I know what you’re probably thinking . . .

Where the heck have you been, woman?!

Well, actually . . .

As often happens when I disappear for a while . . .

I do have a good reason.

(Several, in fact.)

Here are some of them:

  1. Facebook & the rest of the Interwebz. Yah, I know. It’s a time suck. It’s rotting my brain. And it’s not really even that fun anymore. I’m just a junkie, plain and simple.
  2. Books. Yum.
  3. Work. It got crazy for a while there.
  4. Kids. Ditto the above.
  5. Long spring days filled with lots of activity.
  6. Company. We had fifteen people sleeping in our house last Friday night. That’s a lot . . . of FUN! :)
  7. And speaking of sleeping . . .
  8. I’ve been sleeping  a lot lately. . .
  9. (Like, a whole lot), mostly because . . .
  10. Baby #4 is due in early December!

HEY-OH! There it is.

For the sake of efficiency, let me go ahead and answer as many of your questions as I can right away, so I don’t have to do it one at a time later:

  1. Yes, Ken and the kids are super excited.
  2. No, we don’t know yet whether our baby is a boy or a girl.
  3. Yes, we do plan to find out whether our baby is a boy or a girl — in about a month’s time. If you’re really good and eat all your veggies between now and then, we might even let you know, too.
  4. No, I haven’t had much morning sickness.
  5. Yes, I am feeling pretty good. (Of course, since I don’t like to announce a pregnancy until after the first trimester, chances are good that by the time you know, I’ll already be well past the worst of it.)
  6. Yes, we are talking about names, but no, we haven’t decided on any. If our baby is a boy, he will likely be Kaleb Something-or-Other. If our baby is a girl, we’re currently toying with the idea of calling her Amelia Rose. (Let the Whovians understand.)
  7. No, we wouldn’t actually name a child Amelia Rose, although it is a pretty name. That would be dorky. It would be akin to naming a daughter after an obscure flower in The Lord of the Rings or a son after the High King of Narnia. I don’t know what self-respecting parent would do that.
  8. Okay, yes, we totally did do both of the above. But that doesn’t mean we would (necessarily) do it again.

Anyway, all of this rambling is to say . . .

Hello! I’m back — bigger, rounder, and better than ever, in fact.

I’ve missed you.

And I really hope to stay back this time. After so much time away, I’ve got a large stockpile of old fashioned goodness to share with you in the coming weeks and months . . . at least until the company, kids, work, pregnancy, baby — and yes, even Internet frivolity — conspire to drag me away yet again.

Music Night Field Trip: Harpeth Rising @ Foundry Hall

“The concert was amazing. I remember thinking at the time, “This is nothing like my CD. The louds are louder. The softs are softer. Everything’s clearer and richer — and it’s all around me. It’s like I’m swimming in sound . . . like I’m breathing music.”

(Actually, I just made that up. Mostly what I remember thinking during the concert was, ‘AHHH. This is GOOD.’ The rest came later.)

Ever since then, I’ve found myself more and more often preferring even dismally mediocre live music to the very best of the canned stuff.”

me, a little while ago

I was reminded of these words again yesterday, when we packed the whole family (sans Ken, who had important pastor stuff to do) up in Dad’s Suburban to make the trek an hour south to catch a show at Foundry Hall.

“You’d love this group. It’s called Harpeth Rising. I’d really like to go and take the kids — you too, if you can come.”
— my mom, last week (quote approximate)

What can I say? I have a soft spot for my mother, and my mother has a soft spot for Foundry Hall.

Foundry Hall is this spunky little non-profit venue in quaint downtown South Haven, Michigan. It draws in indie musicians and performers from all over the country — world, even — most of whom can play the pants off any “artist” on the American Top 40 despite the fact that I’ve never heard of them. You probably haven’t either.

Harpeth Rising is one such band.

Nestled somewhere between bluegrass and classical (two of my very favorite things), and twisting in lots of tight two-, three-, and four-part harmonies (yet one more of my very favorite things), these pickin’ and pizzicato-ing phenoms kept me and mine utterly engrossed right up through the intermission and even a little beyond.

(Soon after intermission, the kids all got tired and wiggly. Still . . . no complaints. Two thirds of a concert with almost no fidgeting has got to be some kind of record for us!)

The video below was not filmed at Foundry Hall, but the group did perform this song last night. It sounded a little like this, only more alive. It was (a)live music.

(Like what I did there? I thought so.)

Honey-voiced lead singer Jordana played an instrument that I never quite knew whether to call a “violin” or a “fiddle.” She weaved the two styles together so seamlessly and so masterfully that I’m still not 100% sure she knew, either. Whatever she was playing, it was sublime.

Banjoist Rebecca was . . . awesome. I love me some good banjo-picking, and she was good.

Have I ever mentioned that I once tried to teach myself banjo? Honest to goodness, I did. I mistakenly thought it might be easier to learn than guitar, since it has a narrower neck, and I am a person with smaller-than-average hands. I didn’t get very far (and I do not now list “banjo” anywhere among my musical accomplishments), but the experience did give me a high degree of respect and appreciation for masters of this under-appreciated instrument.

Not only was Maria an accomplished cellist, but she also has a certain je ne se quois when it comes to children. They were enchanted. :)

Not only is Maria an accomplished cellist, but she also has a certain je ne se quois when it comes to children. They were enchanted. :)

Before last night I wouldn’t probably have thought of the cello as a bluegrass instrument . . . but I would have been wrong. Cellist Maria brought sounds out of that instrument that might well have made Yo-Yo Ma’s jaw drop. Mine certainly did.

Have you ever heard a cellist rock out the base line to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking”? Or witnessed a cello being played with drumsticks? I have . . . now.

And drummer Chris . . . well, let’s just say that my son now wants to be a violinist AND a drummer. Chris was that cool.

Anywho . . .

Thanks to Andru and the rest of the crew at Foundry Hall for hosting a great show.

Thanks to Mom for inviting us to go and to Dad for driving us.

And thanks most of all to Harpeth Rising for the stories, the smiles . . . and the music.

“It was beautiful.”
— my three-year-old, after bedtime prayers earlier tonight

Say Say Oh Playmate

A little dab of old fashioned family fun for your weekend . . .

Say say oh playmate
Come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three
Climb up my apple tree
Cry down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door 
And we’ll be jolly friends
Forever more!

P.S. Before I get even one comment on this . .  .

Yes, I know that the lyrics to this little ditty most commonly run, “Slide down my rain barrel, into my cellar door.”

But no, I don’t believe I got the lyrics wrong. The first couple of Google search engine pages won’t back me up on this, but the variation above is, I’m fairly convinced, not original. 

This is a rain barrel.

This is a cellar door.

Would you really slide down the barrel into the door? Really?

My mother remembers the lyric like this: “Cry down my rain barrel; slide down my cellar door.”

To me, that makes perfect sense . . . so that’s the version I’m teaching my girls.

What I’m Reading: Treasury of Daily Prayer

So . . . what’s everyone giving up for Lent this year*****?

Just kidding. I don’t really want to know.

I mean, I do. (I’m nosy like that.) But, you know, Matthew 6:16-18 and whatnot.

As for me, I’m doing one or two different things to commemorate Lent this year. For the most part, these will remain between me and God and Ken*. Rest assured, though: none of them, thank the Lord, is anything like my Lenten fast last year.

(Never again. Never ever ever ever ever. No. Just no. Never. Ever. Please. Thank you.)

There is one Lenten “thing” that I do want to share with you, though, because it involves a book — a book I’m reading (and appreciating — a lot) this Fastenzeit.

This year in Lent, I’m trying to be extra faithful about reading from the Treasury of Daily Prayer every night before bed.

The Treasury of Daily Prayer

It even has bookmark ribbons. I love those!

Treasury of Daily Prayer? you might ask. What on earth is that? And why don’t you just read straight from the Bible? 

Good questions, folks.

To answer the last one first: I have a couple of minor challenges to overcome when I just read straight from the Bible (though I really love to do that, too). For one, I’m never quite sure where to start, and I’m never quite sure when to stop. For another, I tend to find myself reading the same favorite books over and over again (John, Hebrews, Zechariah — seriously, I love that book) to the unfortunate exclusion of others (Acts, Hosea, Job**).

The Treasury of Daily Prayer helps me with all of this***. For every day in the year, it gives me . . .

  • a Psalm (or a substantial portion thereof)
  • a (rather longish) passage from the Old Testament
  • a (rather longish) passage from the New Testament
  • a bit of good spiritual writing from somebody significant during the church’s last two millennia 
  • a hymn verse**** 
  • a prayer

For me, it’s a kind of one-stop shop for devotional reading — if I can remember to crack it open.

This Lent, I’m trying extra hard to remember.

* I know you’re supposed to keep fasting mostly to yourself, but in my opinion, if you’re going to fast, it’s kind of important to let others in your immediate household know something of what you’re doing. That way, they don’t get hurty feelings when they cook you a big, delicious steak dinner with all the trimmings and you respond with, “Oh, that’s so sweet, but, um, I’m just not that hungry tonight [wink wink nudge nudge say n’more].”

**To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever read the book of Job in its entirety. I usually start at the beginning, get to the part where Job’s sitting in ashes covered with boils, and then skip ahead to the awesome bit at the end where God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind.

*** I still haven’t read far enough in it to know whether or not the Treasury of Daily Prayer includes the entire book of Job.

**** I usually read these quietly to myself, because singing in bed is just a little weird.

***** Though I don’t really feel a need to ask what you’re all giving up — or not giving up — for Lent, I am curious about this: if you happen to be fasting or engaging in some other form of spiritual discipline right now, what is your motivation? And what is it that you hope to gain from the experience?

Music Night

As you all may or may not remember, Sunday night is Music Night at our house. See, we like to make our own music . . . a lot . . . so a little while back, we decided to start setting aside one night a week just to make doubly sure we didn’t forget to do it regularly.

Intrigued? Want to make your own Music Night? Here’s our simple recipe:

1. Take 2-10+ eager adults and 3-∞ children. (If these small folk happen to come in varying degrees of willingness and musical enthusiasm, it’s okay. Remember: for some people, music is an acquired taste.)

2. Add assorted songbooks. Make sure they include an variety of standards ranging from Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” to Oscar the Grouch’s “I Love Trash” (and as far beyond as you like). You’ll really want a good mix here, for added zest and flavor. Go crazy.

3. Add instruments, including (but certainly not limited to) the following:

  • voice
  • piano 
  • guitar(s) (the more the merrier, really)
  • electric bass
  • banjo
  • kazoo
  • harmonica
  • egg shaker
  • tambourine
  • penny whistle
  • flute
  • tuba
  • recorder
  • drums 
  • xylophone
  • cymbals
  • jingle bells
  • chopsticks + mixing bowl
  • (I’m really not kidding: each of these — along with one or two others that I may have forgotten — has shown up in at least one family jam session within the last three months.)

4. Mix well. 

Really, that’s it. Each person takes a turn calling whatever song they like, and we keep going until everyone in attendance has had a chance to pick at least two songs.

Last week, our oldest chose the sweet little ditty below (which their Sunday School choir sang in church this morning to great applause) as her one of her selections.

Everybody now: AWWWW!!!!

And now, as I am most Sunday nights, I’m tired, and happy, and just a bit hoarse. (One of our songs tonight involved the lyric “Shout! Shout! We are gaining ground!” and I may have gone a little overboard in my rendition of it.)

So, then . . . G’night.

Feed the Birds

Remember all those old fashioned amenities at our new place that I told you about last spring?

(Ah, spring. Seems like a lifetime ago now. Good times.)

Yes, well, I forgot to mention one then, so let me do so now.

Way out back, roughly between the old fashioned clothes dryer and the old fashioned playhouse, there used to stand a dilapidated old  bird feeder.

I say used to stand, because there isn’t a dilapidated old bird feeder there anymore.

No sirree. Thanks to some scrap lumber, a bit of sheet glass, a Saturday morning’s worth of puttering by my über-handy dad, and a couple of trips to the birdseed aisle at Meijer, there is now a fully refurbished, fully stocked, fully functional birdy buffet outside.

And it is a beautiful sight to behold.

Don’t believe me? Check out the raw footage below starring just a few of our fine-feathered diners!

(And keep in mind as you watch this that nearly all the birds flew off when I they heard me step out onto the porch; only about half of the original crew made their way back before I got too cold to stay out any longer in just my slippers. Also, for some reason, there were no blue jays out that morning, though I’ve seen as many as five sharing the feeder at other times.)

“Come feed the little birds, show them you care
And you’ll be glad if you do.
Their young ones are hungry,
Their nests are so bare;
All it takes is tuppence from you.”

What I’m Reading: Call the Midwife

From birthin’ calves to birthin’ babes . . . I must have birthin’ on the brain.

(And no, all you sweet nosies, I’m not preggers. I do, however, have a sister due in March and a sister-in-law due in August, so I hope you will forgive my current fascination with the miracle of new life.)

During a recent visit to our lovely little library, I chanced to pick up Jennifer Worth’s memoir of nursing and midwifery in the East London slums of the 1950’s, Call the Midwife, for three admittedly very silly reasons:

  • The striking period actresses on the cover.
  • The mention of a very interesting-looking PBS tie-in series. (Has anyone seen this? I obviously missed it.)
  • The word “midwife.” 

Whether it’s The Midwife’s Apprentice or . . . actually, I can’t think of any other books with “midwife” in the title at the moment . . . sorry. . . .

The point is, books on the subject of midwifery fascinate me. (This is true even in spite of the fact that all three of my not-so-wee ones were delivered in hospitals by board-certified doctors.)

At any rate, despite having picked up the book for somewhat silly reasons, I really, really enjoyed reading it.

Mrs. Worth is a first-rate storyteller, and the tales she recounts from her first year of midwife training under the Sisters of St. John the Divine (a religious order that began doing proper nursing before proper nursing was even a proper thing and just sort of carried on with it even after proper nursing started to become a proper thing) are alternatively hilarious and heartbreaking.

There’s the story about the nun who establishes rapport with her salt-o’-the-earth patients using fart jokes . . . or sometimes just plain farts. There’s the one about the devastated old woman who haunts the homes of the newly delivered, begging to know, “How’s ve babe?” There’s the one about the prostitute who risks her life to escape a forced abortion and bring her child to term — only to have her baby forcibly taken from her and put up for an anonymous adoption by those who shelter her. There’s (my favorite) the one about the husband and wife whose loving marriage produces 24 healthy, happy children — 25, by the book’s end (take that, Duggars!) — despite the fact that she speaks no English and he speaks no Spanish.

Flowing in, with, and under these gorgeous little stories is a single deeper story: that of Jenny Lee’s gradual spiritual awakening. She comes to the convent a nominal Methodist but a practical agnostic. The lives and witness of the pious sisters, though, coupled with the moments of utter transcendence that she encounters regularly through her work, bring her, slowly but certainly, to faith in God and desire to know Him better. The book ends, in fact, with Jenny Lee opening the Gospels.

Jenny’s spiritual confession isn’t what you’d call beat-you-over-the-head Christian writing (you all know what I’m talking about here). No doubt the BBC and PBS wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the rights to it if it were. Instead, her’s is a natural, organic, unobtrusive-yet-unmistakable expression of belief — a bit of gold thread woven subtly through the entire fabric of the memoir.

It’s a good book, folks.

And hey — guess what?! In looking up the links for tonight’s post, I discovered that Mrs. Worth penned two sequels before her death in 2011. That’s right: Tra-la, tra-lee! It’s a trilogy!

Methinks it may be time to crank up ye olde inter-library loan system . . .