Friday, February 5, 2016

Creating a LifeGiving Home

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I've been married for nearly 22 years, and have been a mother for 20 years. My husband and I have a large family. We had 9 kids in 18 years. Needless to say, life became very hectic, loud, messy, and sometimes crazy. Our baby days are over now and we only have 7 children still living at home full-time. I had already decided that 2016 needed to be a year of change in our home, of finding order, re-establishing joy and peace - a hard thing with 7 strong personalities and shared bedrooms. And then I found The LifeGiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming by Sally Clarkson and Sarah Clarkson.

I've actually read all of Sally Clarkson's books and I know her heart for mothers and families is full of love and grace. But even though I'd read all those books and agreed with them, that wasn't the reality I was living in. I'd lost the vision for my home - we were just trying to survive every day. And I'll confess I'd become overwhelmed and wasn't giving my full energy or heart to my homemaking. I felt unappreciated by my crowd and was letting that discouragement affect my actions.

I'd fallen into a "why bother" attitude about cooking since it seemed half the kids would complain about most meals and I rarely could make everyone happy. They'd rather eat frozen corn dogs than a steaming pot of healthy, home-made soup. So why bother expending my energy and creativity in cooking healthy meals? The kids are tearing around the house being crazy, making messes, and fighting me on chores - so why bother cleaning up every day anyway? Reading aloud isn't going to work because of all the bickering and interruptions, so why try?

Yeah - I'd fallen pretty low from the ideals I'd started with as a wife and mom. I got up every day, fed all the kids, kept them safe, made sure they did their homeschool work - but I didn't do it with joy or creative energy at all. I loved them. I hugged them. I disciplined them. I tucked them in every night. But I wasn't giving them all the life and joy and meaning in each day that I could.

Enter The LifeGiving Home. It is restoring my vision and my love for my home and my role as a wife, mom, homemaker. Sally and Sarah Clarkson share both from the heart of a wife and mother, and that of a daughter and single woman. Both are creating homes that are filled with love, beauty, and hospitality. It is a reminder that no matter where you are or what you have, you can create a home of beauty, love, joy and peace. You can bless your family, and all who enter your home, with Christ's love and a haven from the harshness of the world we live in.

So I have my mission for 2016, and my inspiration in The LifeGiving Home and The LifeGiving Home Experience. I will be gleaning from them both, all year long. Not only do I still have 7 children living at home, and a wonderful husband I appreciate - I also have children leaving the nest. I want all of them to enjoy being home, to feel love and peace in our home, and to know they are safe here. I want them to cherish our home still, and to bring their children home to visit someday. I want our home to be a legacy of faith and love and joy.

 Be inspired this year, and create your own lifegiving home.

April E.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Book Review: The Peacock Throne by Lisa Karon Richardson

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I had never read any of Lisa Karon Richardson's books before, but The Peacock Throne sounded so interesting, that I just had to read it. Miss Lydia Garrett is an orphan, living with her uncle's family. When her uncle is murdered, she is determined to solve the crime that the authorities dismissed as a random burglary. Her investigation leads her to the Earl of Danbury, except he was murdered on the same night as her uncle - both with an ornate, peacock knife.

Lydia and Anthony (the new Lord Danbury) decide to work together to solve the crime and locate the mysterious Peacock Throne of India that seems to be at the center of the crime. They weren't expecting Marcus Harting to force himself into their investigation, but together the three of them embark on a journey to find the throne, catch a spy, and thwart Napoleon's attempts to find the Peacock Throne himself.

I can't help myself. I enjoy historical fiction, especially if it includes some intrigue and a bit of romance. The Peacock Throne contains all of that. I enjoyed watching Lydia emerge as a more confident woman. Gentry by birth, raised with a good education as a simple vicar's daughter, and then reduced to servanthood, Lydia is an unknown entity to the two men she's working with. Both Harting and Danbury find her intelligence, independence, and beauty alluring. A love triangle of sorts develops as both men seem to be falling for her, and her own feelings seem to be unclear.

If you're looking for a simple, wrapped-up conclusion, you don't get it. They do find the throne and the spy. However, it still isn't clear which man Lydia will end up with. What is assured is another adventure as both Lydia and Danbury are drafted by Harting for a new mission. I'll be looking forward to the next book, for more adventure and romance with Miss Lydia Garrett - a most unusual woman for her time.

April E.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

23 days down, 343 to go.

We are 23 days into the new year, and I still haven't made any resolutions. So far my list looks like this: "potty train my almost 3 year old and just do better at everything I should be doing".

I haven't picked a word for 2016, though with the busyness and noisiness of our family life, peace still seems like a good word. Or maybe I need to focus on love and joy more. Actually, sometimes I just need to remember to smile at my loved ones. Smile seems like a lousy word for the year, though.

I have the winter blahs and we just got our first real snow 3 days ago. Our homeschool is three weeks into the second semester and I am struggling to find my motivation. I know I struggle through every winter ... some seasonal depression I am sure.

Knowing this, I opened our living room drapes, braving the drafts in exchange for some much-needed sunlight. But that doesn't change the fact that we are having cabin fever. I still haven't figured out how to get my kids outdoors so they aren't cooped up fighting. all. day. long. No one really likes the cold weather - or the summer heat for that matter. We are definitely a spring and fall family.

This week, the kids did stop procrastinating over their schoolwork so much. Progress! I dug out the first All About Reading reader and my 1st grader is reading it to me every day. That has been a bright spot in each day, to see him having success at reading me a story, with very little help from me.

I was looking at my curriculum shelf the other day and noticed some of my writing resources and other things. It suddenly made me wish for a chalkboard that I could put daily writing prompts on for my elementary and middle school children. I remember doing that with my older girls, and they had composition books to write in each day. Just an idea that fell by the wayside over the years, but would be a simple way to get writing added back in to our homeschool.

Actually, I think I need to start the school day with "mom lessons" and do some group things before they jump into their individual workbooks. Waiting until they each finish their workbooks (at different times) hasn't been working well. Just some restructuring, I think.

I don't have huge goals for 2016. I really just have one - to restore peace and order in our home. I have already made progress on the house, but the family and school routines still need a lot of  work. I need to dig into God's Word and work on my own spiritual life so I can be filled with peace and love to pour onto my family. Maybe it will be catching. Even if it isn't, I will be showing a more active and committed Christian walk, setting an example.

How's that for a completely rambling post to celebrate that I have a laptop again? Blogging is so much easier with a keyboard and not on a tablet.

Seeking peace and joy and order in 2016!
April E.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book Review: I Hope You Dance by Beth Moran

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I enjoyed Making Marion by Beth Moran when I read it last year. It was witty, charming, and touching. Her characters seemed real and I both fought tears and enjoyed laughter as I read the book. So I was very excited to read Beth's second book, I Hope You Dance. Although it is set in the same basic Nottingham area in England, you don't run into the same people you grew to love in Making Marion.

I Hope You Dance grabs your attention immediately as you are thrust into the middle of Ruth Henderson's emotional breakdown as she copes with her partner's death, a mountain of debt, financial struggles, and a lecherous boss. You are immediately cheering for her as she stands up and starts making decisions for herself and her fourteen year old daughter. She may feel as if she's going backwards by returning home to Southwell, but even that is progress.

It isn't easy. She's thrust into her parents marital problems while still trying to regain her own courage, heal her relationship with her daughter, and try to overcome the pain of her own adolescence. She's avoided church since she left home for university, and especially since her unwed pregnancy, yet she finds herself thrust into the heart of Oak Hill Church.

What Ruth wasn't expecting was to make friends, regain confidence in herself, find healing with her parents and her daughter, and even re-establish her friendship with the one man she's always loved - the boy next door. Ruth doesn't just survive. She thrives and heals and realizes that Southwell is once again home.

I didn't find as much humor in I Hope You Dance. It wasn't as fun as Making Marion, but it was definitely just as touching and charming. I loved seeing the friendships that Ruth made grow and develop and watching healing come to Ruth and Maggie. I definitely will be watching for Beth Moran's next book. She's on my list of "authors to read".

April E.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review: Whispers in the Reading Room by Shelley Gray

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I had put off reading Whispers in the Reading Room, just due to family situations and holiday busyness. It was getting close to my deadline when I finally started the book. I honestly didnt put the book down until it was finished. It was that good! I loved meeting Lydia and Sebastian, and watching them find each other.

Set in Chicago in 1893, Shelley Gray shows us both the underside of Chicago and the crumbling edge of its high society. She brings together two unlikely people, from very different upbringings, connected by a love of books and an ability to look beyond the other person's facade.

The mystery unfolded well, leaving me uncertain who was involved until very near the end. Even then, I hadn't guessed at one aspect of the mystery. I also wasn't expecting some of the twists and turns in Lydia and Sebastian's relationship. Thankfully, all works out for the best in the end.

I had never read any of Shelley Gray's books before, but I loved Whispers in the Reading Room so much, that I will be looking for her other books. This wasn't an overtly Christian book. Through the story, different characters are reminded of their need for God, but it is a minimal part of the story. This is a well-written, clean story that will appeal to many readers of historical fiction and mystery-romances.

April E.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Book Review: God Gave Us Sleep by Lisa Tawn Bergren

I simply love the "God Gave Us ..." series by Lisa Tawn Bergren. Our family owns most of the books, and they are one of my favorite baby shower and adoption gifts to give to other moms. God Gave Us Sleep is just as darling as the rest of the books. I love the colorful and sweet illustrations by Laura J. Bryant. They are rich and full of love and warmth.

It is bedtime but Little Cub doesn't want to stop playing. She tries all the familiar tricks: a drink, the bathroom, questions, one more book, and being afraid. Mama Bear is tired but remains patient and gentle as she tucks Little Cub into bed. The next day, Little Cub learns what happens when we don't get enough rest. She gets grumpy and doesn't enjoy her day very much. Mama Bear explains the rhythm of rest that God has given us, and Little Bear finally understands its importance. That night she sleeps well and awakes refreshed and ready for a new day.

God Gave Us Sleep is the perfect book to read to reluctant children trying to extend bedtime as long as possible. I like that it shows Little Cub having a tired and grumpy day after a restless night. I received an ebook free for this review, but I will be buying a physical copy to add to our bedtime story collection. God Gave Us Sleep is another wonderful book from Lisa Tawn Bergren and Laura J. Bryant. We highly recommend it!

April E.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Advent 2015: Sadness and Joy!

Our November took an unexpected turn. From holiday preparations and meeting daughters' boyfriends ... to hospital visits, hospice, funeral planning and grieving for my mother-in-law. Advent has become very poignant as we celebrate the birth of our Savior who gives us the hope of a Heavenly reunion with both of Steve's parents.

We have decorated and are continuing with our celebrations, but it is very bittersweet for Steve especially, this year.

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

Several of these nativites belonged to my mother-in-law. I'm very glad we have them!

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

Happy Advent!

April E.