Favorite Line This Week

“He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”

― P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

Tasting, Swallowing, Chewing, and Digesting (Books, that is)

A girl doing what it takes to get a few minutes with a book

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. - Francis Bacon

Don't you love that quote from Francis Bacon? All books aren't the same, and we can have different involvement and expectations from each one.

This year I'm working on reading more intentionally. I started with several lists (fiction; non-fiction) which I keep altering with additions and subtractions. I really hate the feeling of finishing a book only to regret the time spent, so sometimes I'll drop a book even after investing several hours with it. I'd rather cut my losses once I realize a book is sub-par. But other times, I'll continue plodding through something that isn't exactly riveting because it is teaching something important or something I need to hear. Anyway, that's how I'm approaching my reading selections this year.

Do you struggle with finding time to read? Here's a great article about how one busy mom fits reading into her life.  Like the author of this piece, Liz, I also find it possible to squeeze reading into little snatches of time. I make a few pages progress during lunch, while drying my hair, waiting for a piano lesson to finish, or pretty much any spare moment.

Reading so often brings refreshment to a weary soul. In another recent post, Liz wrote about Reading Under Stress, and she said this:

It is easy in stressful times to think we don’t have time to read—and sometimes we don’t have much—but when we are drained and depleted, besides sleep, and prayer, reading is a source of strength—because our minds need rest, energy, refreshment, nutrition as much as our bodies do, and they feed on ideas. The thoughts and ideas received from books supply, sustain.

Having a reading companion to discuss with as you read deepens the reading experience. A book club can be a great way to explore ideas and themes in literature as you bounce ideas off one another. But even if you can't leave home for a book club, you can virtually take part in one by listening to the Bookenings podcast. Created by several young men from my church, the Bookenings takes on one classic per month, giving readers and listeners much to consider as they address themes of family relationships, the nature of evil, and much more. You'll hear literary background, listen to discussions about the strengths and failures of various characters, and think more deeply about each book. I've thoroughly enjoyed the podcasts I've listened to, though occasionally I've been frustrated with the one-way communication. (OK - I just don't agree with these men's interpretation of the motives and actions of Charlotte from Pride and Prejudice. Here, I think they were sadly lacking a woman's perspective.) But all in all, I love the Bookenings.

Anyway, here's what I've been reading the past couple of months. Some have been tasted, others swallowed, and a few chewed and digested.


East of Eden  (John Steinbeck)   *****
It's hard to capture in a few words the impact of this sweeping family saga which retells the story of Cain and Abel (twice over.) The only Steinbeck I'd read before were The Red Pony and The Pearl, way back in high school, and I didn't care much for either. This is different. Or maybe I am. As I read the 600 page volume, I kept reserving judgment. Sure it was a spell-binder, and Steinbeck is a master storyteller who weaves in all kinds of wonderful social commentary and human insights. At times, though, it is incredibly painful to read as Steinbeck doesn't gloss over sin and its effects. It wasn't until I closed the book that I finally came to the conclusion that this one is a keeper. Steinbeck deals with fathers and sons, mothers, siblings, good vs. evil, stereotypes, and so much more. His own family plays a large part in the tale, and Steinbeck's grandfather Samuel is one of those unforgeable characters in literature. Best of all, you can follow the discussions on The Bookenings to help as you process this weighty tale.

The Good Earth (Pearl Buck) ***1/2
What can I say? Reading this as a 55 year old was quite a different experience than reading it as a 12 year old. My younger self fell in love with China and read every Buck book I could get my hands on. My adult self, now a grandmother, found this classic much more troubling this go-round. And not one I'd recommend for 12 year olds. But Pearl Buck, who spent much of the first half of her life in China, is able to capture the people and times of which she writes.

Kinfolk (Pearl Buck) ****
Published in 1948 this tells the tale of a Chinese family living in NYC. The four grown children end up returning to a China in upheaval, and how each one deals with their past and the future makes for interesting reading, especially as a snapshot of China on the brink of revolution.

Carrying Albert Home (Homer Hickam) **
I found this book a disappointment. I mean, the idea is pretty swell: a semi-true story about the author's parents driving from the coalfields to West Virginia to Florida to return a pet alligator to his native land. Along the way they have adventure after adventure, but most of all discover that in fact, they do love each other. But it's so over-the-top and just not as funny as it might be. Plus Homer's mom comes off as such a shallow, selfish woman, it's hard to care if his dad convinces her to go back to Coalwood, WV or not. If I had a  "Regret Scale," this one would get a 5 star. Just skip it.


Rescue the Captors (Russell Stendal)  ****
The tells the exciting, true story of a young missionary who was captured by the guerrilla fighters in Colombia in the early 1980s. Amazingly, Stendall began to write his life story, reading each day's chapter to his captors at night. His book became began to work a revolution among the revolutionaries who somehow found a typewriter to speed his story along. This collection includes that book written from his jungle captivity plus some other selections from his life and teachings. Uneven writing quality.

The Trapp Family Singers (Maria Augusta Trapp) ** 1/2
The true story behind The Sound of Music family. The first part follows fairly closely the well-known musical. Maria, a young novitiate, comes to the Von Trapps as a teacher. Captain Von Trapp does indeed propose to her, and they marry, though at least on her part it was due to love for the children, not the captain. The family does begin to sing together, and then they perform publically to the consternation of Captain Von Trapp. And, yes, they make an exciting escape from the Nazis, though no nuns sabotage any Nazi vehicles in their aid. That part of the book is mostly delightful.
The rest of the book tells of the Trapp family in the U.S., how they begin to tour, start a farm in Vermont, and create a summer music camp. Unfortunately, Maria, the author, sees herself as the heroine of the story time and again, and her overweening pride wears thin. When the captain dies, the family begins to deteriorate. I happened to watch a documentary on the family after finishing this, and it was quite eye-opening. Let's just say that Maria paints the story with quite rose-colored glasses.


Power Through Prayer (E. M. Bounds) ***
I wanted to love this, but I just didn't. Which makes me feel bad, because, who doesn't love a book on prayer, and this one's a classic. But Bounds is addressing pastors, and it becomes all too easy to not pay attention or find the content as pertinent as it ought to be. Lots of good content, though, such as this:
"Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still. He will never talk well and with real success to men for God who has not learned well how to talk to God for men" (Ch. 4).

How I Know God Answers Prayer (Rosalind Goforth) *****
This little book, on the other hand, I loved! It is completely relevant for women. (And for men, too, I suppose. My husband remembers finding it very helpful when he read it some time ago.)
Rosalind Goforth was a missionary wife in China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a mother of eleven children (five of whom died), many of Rosalind's concerns revolve around the welfare of her sons and daughters. She has anxiety about their health, welfare, schooling, clothing, and more, all things that any mother struggles with. Rosalind tells of concrete, specific examples of God's intervention in answer to prayer again and again. Her description of the family's escape during the Boxer Rebellion is both harrowing and faith-building. Her trust in God, through all kinds of situations - victories and defeats, struggles with her own anger, provision and loss - serves as a beautiful example to readers still. Here's a version on Gutenberg. Highly recommended!!!

Books about Writing and Literature

The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy (Leonard Marcus): ***1/2
Fairly interesting interviews with 13 fantasy authors including Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Brian Jacques, and Madeleine L'Engle. (Those are the ones I'd read. The others were completely unknown to me.) If you enjoy reading Lifehacker's "This is How I Work" segments, you might enjoy this book even if you, like me, are not a fantasy literature fan. I liked reading how some authors write drafts by hand and others compose at the computer, how most carved out a routine, and how almost every one took inspiration from Tolkien. Most surprising, though, was learning how most (not quite all) of the authors were agnostics or atheists. Maybe that explains why so much fantasy literature is dark. Certainly many of these authors are ones I want my children (and myself) to steer far away from.

Favorite description: Ursula K. LeGuin remembers reading Tolkien's trilogy in three days, but she thinks maybe that couldn't be possible, "even for a careless galloping reader like me."


The World of Captain John Smith (Genevieve Foster) ***
I read this aloud to Ben over a period of many weeks. I do enjoy the style Genevieve Foster uses in her "The World of..." series which takes a look at history around the world at a given time. So first you learn what was going on when John Smith was a boy (  )

Quilting (Tasted)

Savor Each Stitch (Carolyn Friedlander): As a former architect, Carolyn Friedlander brings a special set of skills to her fabric and quilt designs. I'm pretty keen on her minimalist modern style. And I'm a huge fan of her fabric lines.

The Half-Square Triangle (Jeni Baker): Another fun modern quilt book. Shows how color theory, scale, and other factors impact quilt design. Some really nice quilts here along with helpful reference material on making HSTs.

Currently Reading:
Animal Farm (George Orwell)
Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (Steve DeWitt)
Walking From East to West: God in the Shadows (Ravi Zacharias)
Darkness at Noon (Arthur Koestler)

Almost Done!

Faith will graduate from our homeschool in just a few weeks! Come August she'll be heading up to Purdue. Yes, she'll be our fifth Boilermaker!

 Here's the quilt top I'm working on for her to take with her. It's flannel, so it's going to be super warm. I'm working up my courage to free motion quilt it with a swirly-wind design.

The pattern is "Diamonds in the Deep" from Bonjour Quilts. Ever since she was little, Faith has delighted in finding patterns of all sorts. She'd exclaim with happiness when a digital clock would register 12:34 or other fun combination. 

The optical illusion aspect of this quilt appeals to her sense of order with a twist as the color shifts from chiefly dark to primarily light. Maybe it's not surprising that Faith will be studying math education, putting to use her love for order and pattern!

Baby Booties That Stay Put!

Keeping socks on baby's little feet can be a near impossible job. Cute little booties often aren't much better. But I've found a simple to sew pattern that really does the job! You can find the tutorial here at the Making It Fun blog.

This is sweet baby Eliza, our youngest grandgirl, just after she was born last June.  She's a whole lot bigger now, and at nine months, she's a girl on the move, albeit with a unique scooting system she's contrived.

The reason these little shoes stay on is that there is a loop of elastic that runs all the way around, making a comfy but secure wrap around baby's ankle.

Here are a couple of tips for this pattern:

1. The original makes a shoe to fit a 0-6 month baby. It's super easy to scale up the shoe pattern with a copier. At 9 months, Eliza fits nicely into the pattern made at 118%.

2. I like to add some batting to the sole, so I sandwich fusible batting between two sole fabrics.

3. This pattern lends itself to variations galore! It's a great place to play with fabric combinations. You can add buttons, ribbons, bows, wool felt flowers, or anything else your creative mind comes up with!

4. For a toddler, scale up a bit more (maybe 130%?) and use a bit of non-skid fabric, the same kind used on footy PJs.

Another pair I made for Baby E.

Easter Freebie from Songs for Saplings!

Are you looking for some faith-building gifts to give your children this Easter?

Songs for Saplings is a ministry of the Dirksen family. They make simple, easy-to-sing music that teaches children truths from Scripture. And right now, through Easter, they are offering free downloads of ALL their albums!

Here's a copy of the email I received:

It's almost Easter 
We're less than one week away from Easter when we celebrate the day our Savior rose from the grave, conquering death and sin for all those who put their trust in Him. 

What a Great God, mighty to save, and full of loving kindness for us!

Easter is great opportunity to teach your little ones the beautiful truths in God's word, and we want to help you do this.

So, this week only, we're making all of our digital music, sheet music, lyrics sheets, and crafts--the entire digital catalog of Songs for Saplings,Questions with Answers, and Tinies Printables-- available as a free download on our online store. 

Please download all of these, use them with your children and grandchildren, and also PLEASE forward this special offer on to others as well and please share on Facebook.

Just use the coupon code 2016Easter during checkout.

To take advantage of this offer just visit our online store this week and use the coupon code: 2016Easter during checkout. We'll leave this discount code active until Easter day.
As always, thank you so much for helping us spread the Word of God through music, and we wish you and your family a joyous Easter!

With Love and Thanks,
- James and Dana Dirksen



We're a nonprofit ministry, if you would like to support a translation project, please let us know.

Songs for Saplings, 818 SW 3rd Ave, Number 1415, Portland, OR 97204
Sent by info@songsforsaplings.com in collaboration with


Life has been exciting recently! So much has been happening in many different spheres, I'm running a bit hard to keep up. But I'll take complexity over an excess of routine, so it's not all bad.

Happily, a week or so ago we were able to take a quick trip to one of our favorite not-too-distant spots -- Natural Bridge State Park in the Red River Gorge area of Kentucky.

Natural Bridge has both a lodge and one and two bedroom cabins. (We've stayed in all three versions.) We're pretty partial to cabins when traveling with children. Having a kitchen saves a good bit on meals, and more living space is helpful.

Even though it was early March, there was snow on the ground when we arrived.

But it was above freezing, so it felt quite comfortable.

Mountain laurel - my favorite!

We just had to watch out for falling icicles.

Of course we saw "the" bridge.

Natural Bridge
Tim even made a night hike to the bridge because it was the one place he knew he had cell signal.

I loved these rock swirls...

which reminded me of a free motion quilt pattern I've been playing with.

It was just a quick trip, but there's nothing like getting out of your usual routine and spaces for a refreshing time!

Cultivating Contentment

This picture, popular in the early 20th century, speaks to me of contentment and thankfulness

One night not too long ago I was telling my husband about some part of my world that just wasn't as it ought when he told me to stop whining.

What? Me? I'm no whiner! 

Those defensive thoughts were the first ones that ran through my head. But almost as quickly, others came, and I had to agree with him. In fact, I'd already been convicted along the same lines earlier in the day by some of my thoughts. Now it was clear I needed to take some practical steps to redirect my ungrateful heart.

There are a number of enemies of contentment. Since that night back in November, I've given some thought to the ones I chiefly wrestle with. Along with those, here are a few of the steps I've been taking to put them to flight.

1. Perfectionism

Striving for "the best" often leads to discontent. This one plays out as I teach my children. My standards and my practices just don't match up. Instead of giving thanks for the things we do accomplish, I sometimes focus on all the areas I fall short of my ideas. But perfectionism also rears its head in many other areas of life.

Just before Thanksgiving, Tim and I remodeled our living room. It's quite fun to work on projects like this together, and for the most part, we're happy with the changes. But here's the weird part: while we worked on the living room, the front hall floors began to look bad and we made plans to redo them. And then we started thinking about how much the basement carpeting needs to be replaced. That's not even mentioning the various items I think I "need" to bring the living room project to completion. It just goes on and on. Obsessing about what's wrong with the house and what we should do to improve it is just so easy. Soon I'm focused on the house instead of the people the house is supposed to serve!

Remedy: Actively work on serving others, not focusing on the externals.

It's never going to be featured on Pinterest, but our living room
now can welcome more people comfortably. Hurrah!

2. Comparison

Comparing ourselves to others is another killer of contentment. Most likely you've read about the studies which seem to show the more time a person spends on Facebook, the more likely he is to be lonely and depressed. University of Michigan cognitive neuroscientist Jon Jonides says:

When you're on a site like Facebook, you get lots of posts about what people are doing. That sets up social comparison -- you maybe feel your life is not as full and rich as those people you see on Facebook.

Looking at Pinterest pictures of beautiful homes does the same thing. Suddenly we're not satisfied with the perfectly good home we live in.

Comparison leads to jealousy and coveting. I love how specific God was in giving the 10th commandment which deals with covetousness:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17).
Look what's mentioned here! Our neighbor's house (hmmm - that includes her kitchen), his wife (or her husband), his servants (maybe our friend's stainless steel appliances?), his animals (vehicles?), and then for good measure - anything that belongs to our neighbor!

Remedy: Instead of looking at someone else's life (or house), I can be grateful for God's presence. Having that, what else really matters? Hebrews 13: 5, 6, says:

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say,The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.What will man do to me?” 

3. Selfishness

This is probably at the root of discontentment in general. But I'll pull it out as a stand-alone. The fact is that as long as I'm more concerned about myself and my personal concerns and comforts, I'm not going to be content. But when I'm thinking more about the needs of other people, then I stop worrying about whether my whim of the day is being satisfied or not.

And what about thinking about pleasing the Lord instead of pleasing myself? Hmmm. Guess that's what I ought be concerned about.

Remedy: Consider others more highly than I think of myself!

4. Ingratitude

How often I'm ungrateful for the many kindnesses shown to me by both the Lord and by dear ones in my life! Discontent and ingratitude go hand in hand. But there's help for this!

Bob Schulz said this in his wonderful book Created for Work:
Thankful enjoyment of God’s good gifts is one remedy against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Whether it’s food, clothes, your home, or your business, may you take pleasure in what you have and thereby live thankful, contented, and joyful in your Father’s presence. 

Remedy: Actively work on becoming a more thankful person. I've begun trying to remember to start and end each day by thinking of five things I'm thankful to God for. It might sound sort of Pollyanna-ish, but it has been making a marked improvement in my daily attitude. Some days, awaking in a grumpy mood, I don't initially feel like giving thanks, but as I begin, the reasons to do so begin to wash over me and I'm so grateful to the Lord for His presence, His person, and His work.

5. Complaining people

Complaining is destructive. Even when the one complaining is me and I am talking to myself! But when we complain to a friend, we spread our poison to them as well.

When we voice our discontent, we reinforce it in our own minds, plus we very often bring the hearers down as well. Of course there are times you will need to give voice to some grievances. Be judicious and deliberate when deciding between giving necessary understanding and encouraging grumbling in your audience.

When my husband worked on a construction crew, it was not unusual for the men to grumble about their wives as they ate lunch together. Tim found that a way to turn the subject from complaining was to put in a few good words about his wife - me!


Observe yourself as you talk to your friends and family. Are you a frequent complainer? Do you often feel like you understand how things "ought" to be done and know just how things ought to be sorted out? Are you irritated at the way things are run in your church, school, homeschool group, club, or team? Do you complain about your husband to your girlfriends and encourage them to do the same to you?

Set a guard on your mouth as you talk to others and even yourself. Consider whether your words are fueling contentment or discontent in both yourself and in your hearers. Here's another place to practice active thankfulness - in your conversations with others!

 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things [c]through Him who strengthens me. Phil. 4: 11-13

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. I Tim 6: 6-8