Advent: Hope

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Advent wreath

It’s been a rough week in Chattanooga.

The bus wreck that killed six children has made national news. This accident happened not far from my own children’s school, in the school district where they also ride buses. My fearful daughter is having a difficult time grasping that tomorrow she will have to ride a bus again. Our community is grieving over what seems to be a senseless, preventable tragedy. I have personal connections to two of the girls who died, through friends and acquaintances.

And it just feels like the endcap on a rough year.

In January, I got pregnant. I’m certainly not unhappy about that – I never was, because I truly wanted a fourth child – but it was unplanned and surprising. And expensive, given our high-deductible insurance. It’s been a huge change for our family.

In April, we thought we were going to move to another apartment this summer. When that fell through, it was extremely upsetting for me. We were hoping to have a little extra space for our expanding family (and hard floors for our messy kids), and we had to go back to square one on fitting six people into this apartment. Again, it’s fine – but it was a road bump in the year.

And as we surged through these and other sad events, there was this crazy election. I don’t consider myself to be a very political person, but this election was enough to get me to cast a ballot. The results were, to me, somewhat baffling. I’ve cried. I’ve been perplexed. I’ve been scared for the future of our country and what I thought it was and what, apparently, it really is. (I certainly do not wish to have any political discussions here. So please don’t argue with me about politics, because that isn’t the point.)

And now, on this first Sunday of Advent, we are confronted with hope.

Advent wreath
source: rosalynlouise

I stared at the candles on our Advent wreath tonight. That one lone candle, burning, its friends unlit, waiting. We hope and we wait for the joy, peace, and love. And we wait for Christ.

There’s been a lot of waiting for me in 2016, between the election and a pregnancy and the pushing back of some dreams. Not all of it brought joy. But I think of the surge of emotions after Hannah was finally born, all 8 pounds and 5 ounces of baby, finally freed from my body and her own little person. Pure joy, bright like fire. All the hope fulfilled, as we saw her perfect form and tiny fingers and toes and everything doing what it was supposed to do.

I’m trying, desperately, to lean into hope right now in Advent. It’s not an easy parenting season for us; our kids are all reacting to the new baby in their own way. It’s a time of being needed in four places at once, of stuffing Hannah into her carseat again, of going to the grocery AGAIN. It’s waiting to see how we will adjust to life with four kids. It’s also much nursing, cuddling, loving, reading books, and relying on God’s strength instead of my weakness.

Hope refuses to buckle and instead believes we will find that new normal. It sees the promise of children grown to responsible adults instead of every speck on the carpet. It fills my heart and lets me lean into the everyday joys.

In Advent, I’m saying yes more. Because in Christ, God said yes to us in every possible way. The fulfillment of all hope.

 

What I Read: October 2016

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Oh hey, remember me? I am still here. I had this baby of mine on October 17th, and it turns out having four kids is a whole lot of work. 😉 I haven’t done much except hold her. But you’ll forgive me, right? She’s pretty darn cute.

Meet our Hannah Katherine. She was born 10/17/16 at 3 p.m. on the nose, and was 8 pounds 5 ounces.

Hannah Hannah headband 4 kids

And so even though it’s November 14th 17th, I want to share about my October reads!

commonwealth

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – I read Patchett’s Bel Canto in 2014 (review here), and it’s been one I have reflected on often. I like books that are character studies, and she does that well. In Commonwealth, Patchett tells the tale of two families, joined and broken by marriages and divorces. The story reflects on a childhood tragedy, the children’s times together, and follows them through to mid-life. The characters are vivid and not easy to forget, and I find Patchett utterly readable. I’d like to tackle State of Wonder next, but I’ve heard the ending can be very off-putting. Should I read it?

beforethefall

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – Before the Fall was released in May, and has been a bestseller and Amazon book of the month. It’s touted as a thriller, but it doesn’t read like one, in my opinion. There is a mystery: a plane crashes, and there are two survivors: an unknown artist friend and a little boy. The mystery unfolds as the artist and police try to figure out what happened on the flight. Was it an accident? Is the artist hiding something?

It’s a quick-paced novel with interesting characters, and I enjoyed the quick read. I found the ending very disappointing, though, after the build-up of the novel. (And many others have said the same.)

myantonia

My Antonia by Willa Cather – I’ve slacked off a little bit on the one-classic-a-month route lately – an exhausted pregnancy and a crazy summer for my reading buddy will do that for you. But I did finish My Antonia, finally, in October. It’s a short read, one that tells the tale of a young boy who moves in with his grandparents in Nebraska after his parents die. At the same time, a family of Bohemians move nearby, including Antonia, a girl a few years his senior and utterly fascinating to young Jim. Cather describes Jim’s upbringing and young adulthood, always intertwining with Antonia’s story. It’s a beautiful narrative, although a little slow for the modern reader, maybe. I’d like to listen to the audio version now to truly soak in Cather’s writing.

britt-marie-was-here

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman – Backman’s 2016 novel gives us another grumpy, older protagonist in the vein of A Man Called Ove: Britt-Marie is a compulsive cleaner who bullies her way into a job in the tiny town of Borg, Sweden after she is confronted with her husband’s infidelity (which she knew about) and he leaves her for the other woman. Fiercely insistent on her ways, meal times, and structure, Britt-Marie is astounded by the people of Borg, and finds herself entwined in not only the town and people, but the youth soccer league. Backman writes older people so well, and he has got the curmudgeon nailed. This one didn’t speak to me quite like Ove did, but it’s still a good read. You can’t help but smile at the transformation of Britt-Marie.

What have you been reading lately? 

This will be linked to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

What I Read: September 2016

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I feel like I need to disclose that this was not a stellar reading month for me. Maybe I am just grouchy and third-trimester pregnant (11 days to go and counting!), but I didn’t love anything I read in September. So if you only want to hear about books I adore … try July or August.

midair

Midair by Kodi Scheer – I really needed a brain break while reading Dorian Gray (see below), and this was the book I had chosen for my Kindle First free pick in July. It’s a YA novel about a group of four girls who travel to Paris. Narrator Nessa has recently lost her brother and, in her mind, any scope of the future when fellow traveler Kat cheated off her ACT – and Nessa got the blame. She recklessly throws herself into this trip, provoking the other girls, planning her suicide from the Eiffel Tower.

I read the book in two sittings because it was a simple read, but I don’t really recommend it. Nessa’s character goes back and forth between her 17-year-old and older self, reflecting on how the outcome changed her and affects her as a parent. But the whole thing reads melodramatic.

doriangray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – This is a short but intense classic by Oscar Wilde, whose work I’ve always enjoyed. As I’ve read more and more classics over the last year, I’m finding that maybe I am too modern of a reader: many classics are full of very long, philosophical passages that just don’t keep my attention. This is one of those. The action in the novel is wonderful and intriguing, and parts of the dialogue were engaging, but one character goes into very long diatribes that didn’t do anything for me. Altogether I am glad I read this one, but it’s not anything I would revisit.

homemadelife

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg – A few of my friends were horrified when I went ahead and read Delancey before A Homemade Life, given that it put them out of chronological order. C’est la vie and what comes in from the library holds, y’all. (Review of Delancey is here.) More than a year later, I finally got around to this one, Wizenberg’s first book. It’s regaled as a book about her father and Molly’s reaction to his death, but I really didn’t feel like that encompasses what’s here. Really, it’s a collection of essays about growing-up moments and beloved foods and family members.

I confess I really didn’t love it any more than I did Delancey, which was somewhat disappointing. While Wizenberg is engaging and her recipes are to die for, she is kind of dry for me and I really didn’t need to read about her “intimate” life, either. (Trying to keep the spammers at bay, here.)

millersvalley

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen – Quindlen is a favorite author of mine, but I was so lackluster about this, her latest book. I probably wouldn’t have even finished it except that I heard Anne talking about it on What Should I Read Next when I was in the middle, and that gave me enough push to keep going. It’s the history of a family who lives in an ever-flooding valley. Mimi tells her family’s story as she grows from a child to a medical student. It is crisp and the writing is good, but nothing captured me about this book at all. (It makes me sad to write that, because really, I LOVE Anna Quindlen.)

lilacgirls

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly – Bringing true history to life, Martha Hall Kelly follows three women from the onset of World War II until many years past its end: Caroline, a New York socialite and “old maid” with a passion for all things French; Kasia, a Polish teenager; and Herta, a young German doctor. Their lives intersect in different times during the passing of the years as we hear three very different stories from these three women. While the history itself is riveting, I felt the writing was almost journalistic and the narrative dragged on. Jessica Turner had recommended this as being great in audio, and I wish I had listened to her on that. It’s an interesting read but not as engrossing as I had hoped.

_________

Oh people. I feel like this is such a bummer of a month! I swear I don’t hate everything I read. I read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett in October already, and it was a much better one for me! Currently I’m storming through Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, too.

What have you read lately?

Linking up with Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy

When TimeHop Kind of Stinks

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Willa Cather quote

Normally, I really enjoy looking through my TimeHop app. (Or On This Day on Facebook, whatever floats your boat.) It’s fun to see the pictures and videos of my littles when they were smaller. (Four-year-old Libbie was a hoot, y’all.) I get a kick out of seeing what on earth I said on Facebook before I had kids. My current pregnancy and my pregnancy with Libbie have had due dates just a few days apart, so it’s funny to see what I posted about baby #1 versus baby #4.

This time of year, though, it gets hard to look at the posts. I don’t remember it so vividly last year; maybe I was less of an emotional mess and able to handle it a little better. But being 37 weeks pregnant, today I just felt myself sinking into the seven-years-ago struggle.

Condo kitchen

You see, seven years ago is when I was living alone in Nashville with Libbie. From that August until January, I did the single-mom thing, worked full-time, tried to keep our little condo spotless for potential buyers. Seven years ago today my friend Meredith helped me stage my house. And I was so hopeful. It looked so incredible.

Seven-years-ago Jessie didn’t know it would be many months of emotional turmoil and money issues and we would finally foreclose on the house, making it feel senseless that I stayed there all those months by myself. Seeing the hope expressed in my own words via TimeHop … well, it’s just hard. It still stinks. Years later.

I can’t ever regret the lessons we learned during that time. I would never regret having a second baby during one of the hardest years of our marriage, even knowing the depression I went through after he was born. God provided a way for us through moving us onto campus exactly at the right time.

It still doesn’t make it not hard or not sad.

And that can be rough.

What I Read: August 2016

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cursedchild

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne – I’m happy to discuss this in more detail if anyone wants to, but I also don’t want to spoil it for anyone. All in all .. it was a play, not a novel, and it’s hard to develop characters in a play without seeing it being acted out. Also, I want to think that Harry is happy and has a nice, quiet life after book 7, so I was kind of prejudiced against this from the start. 😉

wintersolstice

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher – I have heard a lot about Pilcher’s Shell Sheekers, but I ran across this one at a thrift store and decided to pick it up. I am so glad I did, because it’s one of the best books I’ve read in awhile. My only regret is looking on GoodReads at the synopsis, which ruins a main event. So don’t look at it! Just dive in. A great cast of characters find themselves together at Christmastime. That’s about it – the whole plot. But it’s really an excellent read that made me almost feel cold despite being 6+ months pregnant when I was reading. Set in England and Scotland, it reminded me a little of Maeve Binchy, one of my very favorite authors.

annewindypoplars

Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery – Compared to the original six Anne books, which I read in July, this one fell pretty flat for me. It’s told about half in Anne’s letters to Gilbert and half in narrative. Anne is teaching for the three years that Gilbert is at medical school, this book falling in between Anne of the Island and Anne’s House of Dreams. I was hoping to get more of Gilbert and Anne’s relationship, but instead we mostly see Anne’s developing relationships with the characters around her in Summerside. There seem to be a lot of old, crotchety ladies – maybe Montgomery’s writing sweet spot, but none of them are Rachel Lynde. So while I liked visiting Anne, this is definitely my least favorite I’ve read in the series. I’m looking forward to reading Anne of Ingleside still, though.

trulymadlyguilty

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty – I’ve yet to hear of anyone who was enamored with Moriarty’s newest release, myself included. There is no doubt it’s readable, but unlike the other books of hers I’ve read (reviews: The Last Anniversary, The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot), I didn’t find any of the characters to be sympathetic or likable. I did think the last quarter of the book helped redeem some of them, but it was too little too late.

I’m really learning that if there is not a likable character or at least one I can root for, I cannot deal with a book. I know that’s not the case for everyone. I’m wondering if it’s some aspect of my INFP personality or just me as a reader.

cityofmirrors

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin – I almost always reread all the books in a series before the final book comes out. But y’all, I could not bring myself to reread 1300 pages, especially since I was not enthralled with the middle book of the trilogy, The Twelve. Unfortunately that meant it had been more than three and a half years since I read the other two books, and I had a hard time remembering what was going on in the story when I started.

I thought Laura did a good job summing up my feelings on The City of Mirrors in a recent episode of the Sorta Awesome podcast: It was really long; there was a lot of fighting; and it seemed disjointed at times. But it really did an excellent job wrapping up all the plot lines and themes of the series. It’s a series about science, faith, human nature, and desperation. In all honesty, I think when I recommend it I will say to just read The Passage. But I’m not upset I finished the series, either, even though it was a slow read for me.

oneinamillionboy

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood – I’ve heard a ton of buzz about this book, and it was on the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide. I was so glad it lived up to its hype! A great tale about the relationship between a 104-year-old woman and the young Boy Scout who is helping her with her yardwork. I won’t say anything else, because I like to go into a book with no knowledge if possible. But it is an easy read, heartwarming, and delightful.

sugarqueen

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen – I don’t know what it is about Allen’s books, but I just devour them. I don’t think it’s taken me longer than two days to read one, ever. This was no exception. It’s the story of Josey, a twentysomething who lives with her (rich and) demanding mother, is in love with the mailman, and suddenly has a woman living in her closet. Through the urgings of the closet-dweller, Josey comes to terms with her life and starts to emerge from her shell. It’s a “sweet” story all around, and I am addicted to Allen’s magical realism and Southern charm.

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I was kind of astonished to see in August I read two books published in July, one from May, and one from April. I am not usually that on top of new reads. What have you been reading lately? 

Added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy

Books We Both Love

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This week on the What Should I Read Next? podcast, Anne talked to a couple who wanted to read some books together and talk about them. It was a fun listen. And it made me think about those books that my husband and I have both loved.

I honestly never thought there would be books that Mr. V and I would have in common 10 or 15 years ago. (We started dating 15 years ago this fall! Holy moly!) Mr. V loves science fiction and fantasy. I used to read a lot more Christian fiction and chick lit, with a lot of memoirs and some contemporary fiction bestsellers thrown in. This is not to mention that Mr. V is a mathematician with science interests, and I was an English major with a travel bug.

But as we’ve aged, we’ve both broadened our horizons a little bit. I am no longer scared by scifi. We both read a thriller here and there. And if a book gets great buzz, no matter what it is, one of us will probably try reading it.

Here are some of the books that have hit the sweet spot as ones we both loved.

The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir – I was a little more lost at some points than Mr. V (lots of math and science and botany …), but the overall story was so well-told that I could get over the science and love Mark’s tale about being the lone man left on Mars.

Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool by Hugh Howey – I probably never would have picked up this self-published, post-apocalyptic book; but Mr. V urged me to read just the first part (I think it’s only about 30 pages) and see if my mind wasn’t blown. It was. Here, a generation has grown up inside a silo, and people are sent outside only as the ultimate punishment. But things start to go bad … and the people of the silo have to decide how to continue on. Note: I did find that the second book in the trilogy, Shift, was a little too much for me, and I didn’t read the third, Dust. Mr. V did, and he liked them, but not as much as Wool. 

Station_Eleven_Cover

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – Mr. V read this closer to when it first came out in 2014; I just read it this June. My immediate reaction was to scold Mr. V for not making me read it IMMEDIATELY after he was finished. He told me it was good, but obviously didn’t tell me I would love it. Another post-apocalyptic story with vivid characters and several interesting plot lines. It will definitely be in my top books I read in 2016!

passage-300-450-1

The Passage by Justin Cronin – Mr. V always says that the school librarian at the time pressed this book on him, telling him it was about “vampires, but not teenage vampires kissing.” I think it’s a pretty apt description. Really, The Passage is more about a science experiment gone wrong, and the humans struggling to survive in the aftermath. We both adored this gargantuan novel, although I was glad Mr. V warned me there was a short section about 150 pages in that would get a little boring, but the facts were necessary. If you can get through it, the rest is absolutely riveting.

[You can see the theme here. I read the books Mr. V tells me to. I have rarely read anything first and made him read it. See: exception below.]

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow is one of the books I’m always recommending to people, because I think its themes of religion, sexuality, and language are so interesting set in this sci-fi story about interplanetary travel. I nagged Mr. V until he read it, too – probably the only time ever I’ve read a sci-fi book before him. He enjoyed it and went on to read the sequel, which I actually have not read.

Some other books we’ve both read and enjoyed:

How about you? Do you and your partner share any books?