April Snowflakes

One way to cope with April snowflakes is poetry. So here’s a little poem I wrote a few years ago for “Poetry Day” in our homeschool.

Winter’s Last Kiss

Winter came back for a kiss good-bye,
Tossing snowflakes in the April sky.
‘Oh my, oh my!’ little children cry!
‘No, not again,’ frowning grown-ups sigh.

But the joyful birds – steadfast to sing,
Tweet, chirp and trill – such sweet songs they bring.
Robin, finch, and blackbird with red wing,
Add voice to the glad chorus of spring.

Let’s send off showers of April snow,
Thankful for a cup of hot cocoa.
Farewell, winter! Far away you go!
Green grass, green leaves – come and grow, grow, grow!

Books for Ballet Lovers

My voice mail greeting explains to callers that I’m busy chasing ballerinas.

The ballerinas, however, say I got it wrong. They say they’re only ballet dancers. They say they aren’t yet worthy of the title of ballerina.

But then I say – as the dizzy one driving them around and around, dashing to and from the dance studio umpteen times a week for the last eight years, dashing off in search of yet another pair of tights, another pair of flats, or another tube of hair gel  – I say they’re mine. And if they look like ballerinas, I’ll call them ballerinas if I want to, thank-you-very-much!

Ballet is, of course, what they do when they aren’t reading, playing piano or drawing. They speak French terms to each other, they make lovely poses, and they then flutter gracefully across the kitchen floor, often counting to eight under their breath. “What was that?” I ask. I never pretend to understand it. But because they are 11 and 14 and still twirling around the house daily, it is ever-so precious to me, and I thank God for those moments.

Then onward to the dance studio I drive. I love to watch them practice when they invite me. It’s always lovely and beautiful and sometimes smells like sweaty feet. (But don’t tell the ballerinas I said that.) They work super hard, and then they smile big toothy smiles, move ever-so gracefully across the floor, and somehow make it look as though it’s not one bit of trouble.

Dancers inspire me. They remind me of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8, “…whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”

Maybe you have a trained dancer in your family, too? Or a little girl pitter-pattering on tip-toe throughout your home? Or maybe a quiet girl who paints or writes or just daydreams of beautiful things? If so, grab this list of lovely books about ballet and twirl right on over to the library or bookstore!

Chasing Degas by Eva Montanari – This is a gorgeous picture book with a lively story and illustrations inspired by Impressionist paintings. Images of such paintings by Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas and others are included at the end.

I Dreamed I was a Ballerina by Anna Pavlova – Another beautiful picture book, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, features Impressionist artwork by Edgar Degas and the words of prima ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931). Pavlova is best known for her role as the Dying Swan in Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals.

Ballet Spectacular by Lisa Miles – With breathtaking photographs, this book is a treasury of all things ballet – history, famous ballets, ballet school, life in a ballet company, and a glossary of ballet terms. It’s a lovely guide for young ladies interested in dance.

Tallulah’s Tutu, Tallulah’s Solo, Tallulah’s Toe Shoes, Tallulah’s Tap Shoes and Tallulah’s Nutcracker by Marilyn Singer and Alexandra Boiger – Sweet illustrations with a bit of sparkle make this delightful series of five easy picture books just perfect for little girls. Simply adorable.

The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple – This is a stunning treasury of captivating ballet stories along with thorough details about each dance and a concise history of classical ballet.

A Child’s Introduction to Ballet by Laura Lee – Ideal for younger readers, this book includes simple illustrations and ballet stories along with a music CD featuring a track for each story. It also has a glossary of ballet terms.

Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer by Michaela DePrince and Elaine DePrince – With easy text and a mix of illustrations and photos, this autobiography features the endearing story of Michaela DePrince, a well-known ballet dancer who starred in the 2011 documentary First Position. This is a Step-into-Reading Level 4 book.

The Nutcracker Ballet retold by Deborah Hautzig – Easy text and sweet illustrations make this a great fit for beginning readers. It is a Step-into-Reading Level 3 book.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – First published in 1937, this chapter book relays the charming story of three orphans in England who become part of the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training.

Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – This chapter book is an interesting tale about two orphaned sisters involved in theatre and the Royal Ballet. It was first published in 1957.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Sandpipers

“My Sandpipers”

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Along the water’s edge

Toward the shallows they run

With long and graceful legs

Chasing the waves and sun.

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Then away from the waves

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They turn and sometimes fly

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Playful in their searching

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Sand, shells and sunset sky.

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“The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises… What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” -Ecclesiastes 1:5, 9

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11 Great Picture Books for History

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Nearly every time I try to sit on our living room couch, I can’t actually sit. That’s because of the trail of two or three wide-open chapter books left on the cushions by my 11-year-old. She really loves being a bookworm, but she has yet to learn the purpose of a bookmark. Sigh.

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I suppose this is a symptom of her book obsession. She reads all sorts of books — classics, biographies, historical fiction, children’s fantasy, devotions and poetry — and usually has several in progress at once. One book I frequently try not to sit on is The Racketty-Packetty House, which she is in the process of converting into a script for a play she hopes to direct this summer. That seems like such a grown-up endeavor!

To my great delight, though, this dear bookworm has not yet outgrown the ritual of curling up on the couch with me to enjoy a lovely picture book from the library. I really don’t know what I will do with myself if she ever does outgrow such a ritual because I have a serious weakness for picture books.

My favorite read-alouds for this upper elementary age are historical picture books that bring the past to life. It’s always delightful to read well-illustrated, factually accurate books about real people and real events. Here’s a list of books in this genre that we’ve really enjoyed reading together as part of our homeschooling adventures.

1. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick is the best new book I’ve read in this genre.

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I fell hard for it immediately because it is a sweet, well-told story as well as a beautifully illustrated work. You may have guessed this: it features the real bear who inspired A.A. Milne’s much-loved character Winnie-the-Pooh. But it’s also a great World War I story about Canadian soldier Harry Colebourn. I simply adore it.

2. Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff is another fabulous book I’ve come across in this historical picture book genre.

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The book, which features Ben Franklin and Franz Mesmer, has mesmerized my whole family. The eye-catching typography and magnificent illustrations make it exceptionally fun to read; plus the fascinating story could easily count as a read-aloud for science as well as history, not to mention a tiny French lesson, too!

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3. Lily: The Girl Who Could See by Sally Oxley and Tim Ladwig is a lovely book about English artist Lilias Trotter, who faithfully served the Lord as a missionary in North Africa in the late 1800s. After you read it, consider watching the documentary film about Trotter’s life: Many Beautiful Things, which is available at manybeautifulthings.com.

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4. A Bear in War and its sequel, Bear on the Homefront, both by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat, tell the bittersweet stories of one small stuffed bear, Teddy, and a family’s experiences during World War I and World War II. You can see Teddy at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

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5. A Voyage in the Clouds by Matthew Olshan is about the first international flight by balloon in 1785. It includes fantastic illustrations by Sophie Blackall, who also illustrated Finding Winnie.  The Frenchman and the English-American in this notable crossing of the English channel did not get along, and the author uses that angle to make this telling of the event quite interesting. Disclaimer: A wee bit of what you might categorize as bathroom humor appears in the text and illustrations, but only because it’s a true part of the event. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end to clarify where some liberties were taken.

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6. Fly, Cher Ami, Fly! by Robert Burleigh is about a truly heroic carrier pigeon that helped rescue a lost battalion of soldiers during World War I. The illustrations are quite captivating, and the tale is a memorable piece of American history. This remarkable bird can be seen at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

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7. Stubby: The Dog Soldier by Blake Hoena tells the story of another animal from World War I that’s also on display at D.C.’s National Museum of American History. Stubby braved the battlefields alongside soldiers in the U.S. Army’s 26th Division.

A few other favorites in this genre that we have checked out from the library are:

8. Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan

9. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant

10. Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Ferris

11. Papa is a Poet: A Story about Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because His Love is Better

“He gives snow like wool; He scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down His crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold?” —Psalm 147:16-17

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Some days the complaints about winter weather pile up faster than snowflakes around here. Grumbling comes easy when the outside air hurts my face and my hands are dry, cracked and bleeding. Weariness and discontentment can deepen as I clear the driveway and sidewalk.

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But someone has kindly pointed me to Psalm 63. And the words in verse 3? They melt me.

“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.”

Can my dry, chapped lips glorify God while they grumble and complain about the cold and snow He sends?

Can my heart truly believe that His steadfast love is better than life? Why does my heart doubt His goodness in sending the weather?

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“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.”

I put on these words and wear them close, like a layer of Under Armor insulating my prone-to-wander heart.

Then I take a walk in the fresh snow.

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I stop now and then to take a picture. Fresh air and photography help me re-focus my heart and be more watchful of His goodness, His grace, His love. Each beautiful flake of snow is worthy of pondering closely.

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“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

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God is always good and His steadfast love endures, even the thermometer reads -31 degrees F like that Sunday morning back in December.  And even when it’s -31 degrees, I can still be thankful and trust the One who sends that cold. Because the One who sends the cold, He is the One who provides what I need to keep warm. Warm socks, hot tea, fire in the fireplace. He provides. And His love never fails.

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“For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, His mighty downpour.” Job 37:6

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“By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.” Job 37:10

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Another day I walk across the lake. And walking on water, albeit frozen, tests my faith. I’m inclined to question every step, but God reminds me to trust Him.

“Let me hear in the morning of Your steadfast love, for in You I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul.” Psalm 143:8

Trust builds with each thank-You prayer. So I thank Him for the sunshine and fresh air. I thank Him for a quiet morning. I thank Him for guiding me step by step.

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In the marsh, the cattails capture a soft, shiny glow in their fluff.

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And there on the frozen lake the light catches on the flakes, and the snow sparkles — as if someone has scattered little diamonds across it, shiny little treasures waiting to be found.

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“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.” Psalm 63:3

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Alive in the Spirit

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“I cannot start a Reformation like Martin Luther did. However, I can have within me the same Spirit that drove him in that direction. It is the Holy Spirit that we need in our midst today.” -A.W. Tozer, Alive in the Spirit

In his never-before-published book titled Alive in the Spirit, A.W. Tozer encourages Christians to study church history and learn about the women and men on whose shoulders our faith stands.

“…it is imperative that we read and understand our past,” Tozer argues. “If we do not understand our past, we will never fully comprehend our future. What God has done in the past is what He will do for us today…If I do not know what He has done, how can I have faith for what He will do for me today?”

One of the most-honored figures in church history is Martin Luther. And this year, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation started by Luther, who protested the teachings of the Catholic Church by nailing his ninety-five theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

These ninety-five theses, and nearly all of Luther’s other works, proclaim Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and point to God’s gift of salvation by grace through faith, not through works or indulgences as the church leaders of his day were teaching.

At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther said before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils…My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything.”

A few weeks ago at our local art museum, I saw the touring exhibit “Martin Luther: Art and Reformation,” which features many historical objects, artwork and artifacts from the 1500s. Along with my daughters and three of our dear friends, I beheld dozens of remarkable items: an early copy of the ninety-five theses that was widely distributed during Luther’s day, woodcuts by German painter and engraver Albrecht Dürer, and a cooking pot used in Luther’s boyhood home until it was buried in a heap of plague-infected household items. Most remarkable to me were the stunning gotha altar, a wooden window seat from Luther’s home, and the habit of an Augustinian monk.

Because the exhibit hall was overly crowded and uncomfortably warm, it was difficult to maneuver through the museum and fully ponder the historical significance of each artifact on display. And since my cell phone battery had died, I didn’t capture a single image of this memorable experience. But what I took away was meaningful nonetheless and quite beyond what my camera could have captured anyway.

Focusing on all of Luther’s notable accomplishments as a writer, translator, hymn composer, professor, theologian and pivotal figure in the Protestant Reformation, Luther seems larger than life. But after studying some of his personal belongings and even some letters he wrote by hand, I began to see a much more humble and human side of him. He was, after all, a man of flesh and blood. He sat at a table to eat and write, he sat at a window seat to pray and meditate, and he sat before people who misunderstood him, misunderstood Scripture and misunderstood Jesus’ finished work on the cross.

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So where did this simple man get such a mighty vision of the righteousness of God and the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus? What provoked him to protest and boldly debate the church leadership, refusing to accept its authority? What fueled his work of translating the Scriptures into German and writing powerful hymns like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God?”

In his biography Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Roland H. Bainton says, “Luther did the work of more than five men.”

How is that even possible?

Having just read Tozer’s book about experiencing the presence and power of God through the Holy Spirit, I am convinced that Luther was alive in the Spirit. Surely he was prompted, encouraged and empowered by the Holy Spirit as he acted in response to the living and active Word of God, particularly the Psalms and the book of Romans.

“Whenever God gets ahold of someone who is totally surrendered and one He can trust, God begins His work,” Tozer writes. “The quality of the work is not so much in the individual as it is in the individual possessed by God.”

Certainly Luther acted in obedience to God, but perhaps we give Luther too much credit as an individual and the Holy Spirit too little credit for Luther’s work.

Tozer explains that “…it is the Holy Ghost’s business to witness to the person and works and words of Jesus and confirm that He is the Messiah, the Son of God.” And likewise, Luther’s work confirmed Jesus as Christ and reinforced His works and words.

Tozer says that God has chosen to work within “the confines of His redeemed people” but is not restricted by the limits of human ability.

“God does not work within the confines of our strength; God works according to His character and nature and power,” he says.

Near the end of his life, Luther was not thrilled when his friends began gathering up his works for publication. He was willing to let much of it go because, “what mattered most was nothing that he had done but what God had done for him,” says Mark A. Noll in Invitation to the Classics.

Boldly proclaiming the truth of God’s Word to the world around us, just as Luther did, is what the Holy Spirit empowers Christians to do, Tozer says. And so it is imperative that those who follow Christ are aligned with God and His will as revealed in His Word by the Holy Spirit.

“The Bible gives us the power to do and to witness. We are to tell what we have seen, heard, felt and experienced. It all centers on the person of Christ,” he says.

“Our faith,” he concludes, “does not rest upon nor depend upon historical evidence, but upon the invisible presence witnessing to the inner life and our response to that voice.”

NOTE: Often quoted and frequently referred to as a “modern-day prophet,” A.W. Tozer, like Luther, was a theologian, pastor and author. He lived from 1897 to 1963. As an authority on Tozer’s ministry, Rev. James L. Snyder compiled and edited a series of Tozer’s sermons to create this book about the Holy Spirit. Although the content comes from sermons given many decades ago, the book is quite relevant for followers of Jesus today. To equip me for this review, Bethany House Publishers provided a free copy of the book.

 

 

 

 

 

8 Books I’m Thankful For

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Outside my kitchen window, a dapper little junco tap dances around the new little lilac bush we planted on Mother’s Day. The leaves on the lilac are still green, but the bush is surrounded by a small heap of dry brown leaves that blew off the maple tree on the other side of the yard.

It’s the first week of November. Soon the branches of all the bushes and trees will look thin and bare. Soon Daylight Savings Time will usher in shorter days. And soon that lonesome north wind will howl in the night.

Beauty in nature is hardest to find in Minnesota November. And if I linger too long thinking about my least favorite month, I will easily slip into complaining and feeling discontent. But then the calendar reminds me Thanksgiving is coming. And is it too corny to say I am thankful for Thanksgiving? Because I am grateful my favorite holiday falls during my least favorite month of the year.

I appreciate that Thanksgiving brings not just a delicious feast with my family around a dinner table overflowing with food, but also a rich, joyful feast for my soul as I count my blessings throughout the month.

Through the dull, gray days of November, I see that God’s grace still abounds with every breath I take. And God’s Word reminds me (yet again) that I need to keep speaking the language of thanks. Praise and gratitude should forever be on my lips, not just because it makes my soul joyful, but also because giving thanks glorifies Jehovah Jireh, the LORD Who Provides. He is indeed the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

To help ring in the month of Thanksgiving with that attitude of gratitude, I have for you a little list of eight Thanksgiving-themed books that I have loved reading aloud with my family. I am thankful for these books because sharing each of them with my kids has been a blessing I’ve counted — sometimes more than once.

1. Almost Home: A Story Based on the Life of the Mayflower’s Mary Chilton by Wendy Lawton

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This is a well-researched, 140-page chapter book in the “Daughters of the Faith” series. It relays the story of 13-year-old Mary Chilton, who also sailed on the Mayflower and bravely begins a new life in Plymouth. I especially appreciate how this story begins with the persecution these believers endured before leaving for America, as that really puts their situation into context. I also like the brief but very helpful glossary of unfamiliar terms in the back. I suggest this book for youth in upper elementary grades and up.

2. Over the River and Through the Wood: A Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child

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I immediately fell in love with this picture book when my sweet friend Carla read it as part of a November story time for homeschoolers at the library one year. Of course, a few lines of the poem were already quite familiar to me, as they likely will be to you. But how delightful to have the entire poem as well as fantastic woodcut art to illustrate it! This is a treasure for all ages.

3. A Light Kindled: The Story of Priscilla Mullins by Tracy M. Leininger

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This nicely illustrated, 60-page chapter book tells of the faith and courage of Priscilla Mullins, who was 18 years old when she sailed to America in the Mayflower in 1620. As one of only four women who survived the Pilgrims’ first winter, Priscilla endured many hardships and relied on God for strength through loss and trials. I suggest this one for school-aged kids and any younger person who will listen to chapter books. I am sad to say this one is out of print, but check your library or used book sites like Thriftbooks.com.

4. The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh

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This charming picture book on Thanksgiving was published in 1954, and it received Caldecott Honors. Alice Dalgliesh is one of my favorite children’s book authors, and I like that she includes a tidbit about the wash day the Mayflower women had shortly after arriving at Plymouth. Clean clothes are indeed something to thank God for! Can you even begin to imagine how disgusting those clothes must have smelled after that lengthy ocean journey and all the illness on board? Ugh!

5. Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson

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When my dear friend Julie read this picture book two years ago, she right away knew that I would love it because it is a true story about the first female magazine editor in America. With an informal and humorous tone, the book explains how Sarah Hale used her pen to “save” Thanksgiving by arguing for it to be a national holiday. Like me, you may have to forgive Mrs. Hale for also arguing against pie for breakfast. I mean, why should we not eat pie for breakfast? This one is great for all ages.

6. The First Thanksgiving by Linda Hayward

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When my daughters were learning to read on their own, this “Step into Reading” series was a great fit because the stories and illustrations are well done. I like that this early reader about Thanksgiving was well-researched and informative.

7. Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller

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Written in rhyming verses, this newer picture book about a family cooking their Thanksgiving feast feels like a familiar old friend. It is short, catchy and simply delightful to read. Plus the illustrations are just so quaint and darling that I can almost smell the turkey in the oven.

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8. An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott

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The text for this 32-page picture book comes from what originally was a longer story published in 1882, so the content has been significantly abridged and adapted. Usually that would deter me. But the illustrations by James Bernardin are so captivating I could not resist this version of the book, and I found the story is still quite worthwhile. The book’s length is ideal for all ages, and older students also might enjoy comparing this version to the one illustrated by Michael McCurdy.

Happy November and happy reading, my friends!