If You’re Reading This by Trent Reedy

Mike gets a letter a few weeks before his sixteenth birthday: “If you’re reading this, I’m very sorry, but I was killed in the war in Afghanistan.” Thus begins a series of letters to Mike from the dad he didn’t really know who died in Afghanistan when Mike was eight years old. Can Mike get to know his dad and maybe get some wisdom and advice, even though his dad is gone?

This YA contemporary fiction book has several things going for it:

It has a male protagonist, written by a male author. Mike really feels like a typical sixteen year old guy, kind of a straight arrow geek, but those really do exist. Mike reminds of some sixteen year olds I know.

The plot hinges on and features football, a very popular sport that hasn’t received its due in YA fiction. At least not in a good way. The stereotypical football player inmost YA fiction is a popular brain-dead jock who’s dating or dumping the also popular, brainless cheerleader. Mike finds friendship and community and the enjoyment of being part of a team in playing football, even if he does have to deceive his mother in order to make the team.

Mike’s dad is an everyman soldier who died in Afghanistan, and we get to know him as Mike does through his letters. Mike’s mom is over-protective and also distracted by trying to provide for Mike and his sister. These are real parents, not cardboard, and they both play an important part in Mike’s life and in the story. Not many YA novels really delve into the parent/teen relationship of imperfect parents who nevertheless love and try to relate to their also imperfect sons or daughters. Usually the parents are absent, stupid, or evil. Mike’s parents are none of the above.

I wouldn’t hesitate to give this book to any teen who’s trying to make sense of the war in Afghanistan or Iraq or any of the future wars we manage to get ourselves into. It’s not the final word on war or the meaning of life or heroism or honor, but it is a perspective. It’s an honorable and real perspective. I am quite impressed with Mr. Reedy as an author and as a commentator on the effects of war on families and especially young men. I like his other book that I read, Words in the Dust, and I liked this one, too.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Poetry Friday: The Country Clergy by R.S. Thomas

I stole this poem fragment by poet R.S. Thomas from Glynn because I loved it and wanted to share it/preserve it here.

I see them working in old rectories
By the Sun’s light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.

This poem reminded me of my father-in-law, a Baptist preacher in tiny West Texas Baptist churches. He didn’t usually work full time as a pastor, but rather he was what we now call a bi-vocational pastor. His churches were in places that don’t stand out on the map: Buda, Prairie Lea, Robert Lee and Maverick—all in rural Texas. He left no books, only journals written in spiral-bound notebooks, talking about things like the weather, the comings and goings of family members, and the many things he was thankful for.

My father-in-law, John Early, has gone to his reward, and his words and ideas often read as somewhat quaint and outmoded, but always faithful. God in his time or out of time will correct this.

Tara is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Roundup at A Teaching Life.

House-Dreams by Hugh Howard

House-Dreams: The story of an amateur builder and two novice apprentices and how they turned an overgrown blackberry patch, ten truckloads of lumber, a keg of cut nails, and an antique staircase into a real home by Hugh Howard.

I’m not a home builder or a designer, so I’ll admit I skimmed through a lot of the more technical passages in this story of a man and his quest to design and build his own house. I’m also not an architectural elitist, so I sniffed and rolled my eyes at some of the author’s more pretentious statements about building a house designed to fit into a milieu of nineteenth century American architecture. However, since I’m in the beginning stages of own home remodeling project, a lot of the commentary and advice here was quite pertinent to my own situation.

Because we had a house fire in December, we’re going to have to replace the roof, the attic, and the kitchen in our house. We’ll also be getting new flooring throughout the house, and we may remodel one of the bathrooms while we’re at it. Any advice?

Mr. Howard’s house with its solid maple wood floors, antique staircase, Rumford fireplace, grubka stove, and marble countertops is way out of my league, but I did pick up a few tips:

1. Watch, learn and ask questions. Mr. Howard is a self-taught builder and designer. He asked a lot of questions at hardware stores.

2. Expect the job to take longer than you expected and to cost more than you budgeted. I sort of already knew this bit of house-building/remodeling wisdom.

3. Enjoy your home. I am totally overwhelmed with the thought of even as small a home-rebuilding project as we will be doing. However, I am determined to enjoy re-making our forty year old house to suit our current and anticipated needs. I’ll try to update you on our progress here on the blog.

In the meantime, I’ll take any advice you have on kitchen flooring, countertops, cabinets, bathroom flooring and other fixtures, roofing, and living room walls and ceilings. I might as well cast a wide net.

12 Best Books Read in the Semicolon Family in 2013

Eldest Daughter (28) is on a Catholic reading binge. She recommends Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene and The Letters of Caryll Houselander. She also read and enjoyed The Pale King by David Foster Wallace.

Artiste Scientist Daughter (24) shares my love for Madeleine L’Engle. She says the best book she read this year was L’Engle’s The Genesis Trilogy: And It Was Good, A Stone for a Pillow, Sold Into Egypt, reflections on the first book of the Bible and Ms. L’Engle’s insights into the nature of God, questioning, creation, and grief.

Brown Bear Daughter (19) read Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative by Robert Webber for her Old Testament Theology class at Houston Baptist University, and she learned a lot about the meaning of worship. I know the book made her think because she left this quote on her Facebook page:

“For some people the truth declared in worship will be received with exuberance; for others the truth of God’s story will be received with reserve, a quiet sense of joy, or even relief. But with us all, a worship that does God’s story should result in a delight that produces participation. Because God is the subject who acts upon me in worship, my participation is not reduced to verbal responses or to singing, but it is living in the pattern of the one who is revealed in worship. God, as the subject of worship, acts through the truth of Christ remembered and envisioned in worship. This truth forms me by the Spirit of God to live out the union I have with Jesus by calling me to die to sin and to live in the resurrection.”
Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship

41iZTZnvDJL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Drama Daughter (22) says she started many books, but didn’t finish many. She did finish, and enjoy, Sarah Dessen’s 2013 novel, The Moon and More.

Engineer Husband also has trouble finishing books, and he’s still reading his favorite from 2013, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

Karate Kid (16) says his favorite read this year was Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. (Yuck!)

Computer Guru Son (26) recommends Anathem and Cryptonomican, both by Neal Stephenson. He’s also proud of having finished reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace—the whole thing, all 1000+ pages.

Betsy-Bee (14) read The Story of the Aeneid, an adaptation of the Virgil’s classic, plus some excerpts from the actual Aeneid, and she says it’s the the only thing she really remembers reading from 2013. She promises to read more (and remember?) in 2014.

And Z-baby (12) is listening to Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis on her new Kindle. We have a family tradition of loving, reading, listening to, watching, and re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia. And long may it last!

Hold Fast by Blue Balliet

Betsy-bee loves Blue Balliet’s books–Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Calder Game— which incorporate art education and mystery and adventure to make up a lovely, colorful mixture of a read. She might like this one, too, even though it’s different. It’s set in Chicago, but it’s not a Chicago of art museums and art thieves. Instead Hold Fast is about a family of four, Dashel and Summer, the parents, and Early and her little brother, Jubie (short for Jubilation). Dash works as library page at the Harold Washington Public Library, and he’s “a man who love[s] language almost as much as color or taste or air.”

“Words are everywhere and for everyone. They’re for choosing, admiring, keeping, giving. They are treasures of inestimable value. . . . Words are free and plentiful!”

51tNF5vxWjL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_The above quote is an example of the way Early’s father, Dash, talks about words and books and learning and, well, life. He’s a whimsical, poetic, word-lover sort of guy, and unfortunately he gets mixed up with a rough crowd by mistake. Early and Jubie and Sum end up separated from Dash and living in a homeless shelter. Everyone, including the police, thinks Dash has run away because he might be involved in criminal activity. But Early knows her father is a man of honor and responsibility. Dash will come back to the family, and they will prove his innocence and fulfill their family dream of having a real house someday.

The book is confusing at first. But if a reader can get past the first couple of chapters, this one is a keeper. Early has a voice that shines, or resonates, or whatever the right word is. And she’s quite as concerned about words and how to use them and treasure them as her father is. I doubt there are many families like Dashsumearlyjubie (yes, that’s what Early calls her family in the book), but I doubt there are many families quite like mine either. Or yours. Happy families are not all the same, no matter what Mr. Tolstoy said, and unhappy families are only happy families that have given up in some way or another. Quirky, unique, eccentric, whatever you want to call us, our families have personalities, too. And I really enjoyed the author’s portrayal of Dashsumearlyjubie and the plot of how they were pulled apart and eventually knit back together through faith and perseverance.

Sisters Day

The first Sunday in August is Sisters Day. How can you celebrate your sister or help your children celebrate sisterhood?

Read a picture book.
Big Sister and Little Sister by Charlotte Zolotow.
A Baby Sister for Frances by Russell Hoban.
A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban.
Flicka, Ricka, Dicka Bake a Cake by Maj Lindman.
One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey.
Big Sister, Little Sister by Leuyen Pham.

Give your sister a book.
Some fiction books that feature sisters and their lovingly complicated relationships are: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, Deadly Pink by Vivian Vande Velde, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo, All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor, The Other Half of my Heart by Sundee Frazier, Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, Beautiful by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma, Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Sense and Sensibiity by Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Losing Faith by Denise Jaden, Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, Cranford by Mrs. Gaskell.

Call your sister. Send her a letter. Do something together if you can.

FREE Sisters Day ecards.

Book Tag: Do you have any favorite “sister books” to suggest? The Book Tag rules are:

“In this game, readers suggest a good book in the category given, then let somebody else be ‘it’ before they offer another suggestion. There is no limit to the number of books a person may suggest, but they need to politely wait their turn with only one book suggestion per comment.”

Eliminate the B-Word

What do you do when the kids start singing that good old summer song, “Mom, there’s nothing to do! I’m bored!”

A. Get out the math books.

B. Threaten to find them something to do, and it is a threat. Scrubbing baseboards is not a desirable or treasured substitute for boredom among my urchins.

C. 100 More Things to Do When You’re Bored: Summer Edition.

D. Wash their mouths out with soap–no b-word around here.

Take your pick, but summertime boredom can be a useful educational tool. I told one bored urchin that she should do something for someone else when she’s feeling bored, but this idea didn’t go over too well. So I tried to make this list to be fun and reflect that idea. Maybe some concrete examples will help. I do believe my children spend way too much time worrying about how to entertain themselves, and that goal invites boredom. Joy really is found in service, but it’s a hard lesson to learn. (It’s also a hard lesson for me to model sometimes since I tend to be as self-centered and entertainment-seeking as the next person.)

Ah, well, back to the lazy, lovely days of summer!

What I Learned from My Daddy

My daddy died in 2009. He lost his leg a few years before that, to diabetes, and then he “lost” his home because he was no longer able to live there in a wheelchair and with only one leg. He and my mom moved into a senior living apartment complex near my home, and they started again. My dad was stubborn, and he made himself work hard and come back from the losses he had sustained with grit and determination.

When I was growing up in West Texas, my dad displayed the same obstinate spirit and tenacity that enabled him to start over in a new city with only one leg at the age of 70+. Here are a few of the things he taught me:

1. Work hard. I don’t think I’ve ever worked as hard as my daddy did most of the days of his life, but I know what’s right. I saw him do it for all the years I knew him.

2. Take care of your stuff. My daddy took care of the cars, changed the oil, got things fixed, bought new tires, watched for problems. He took care of our yard, or later when he was older, he hired someone and supervised them while they did it. If something broke, he fixed it, or hired someone to do it.

3. Know the right people. In my hometown of San Angelo, my daddy knew the best person for almost any job or purchase you wanted to make. He knew who to buy a car from. He knew where to take your car to get it fixed. He knew where to get your taxes done and which doctor was good for which ailment.If you needed something, from coffee to home repairs, my daddy knew the best place and the best person to ask.

4. Listen to country music and sing anyway. Daddy couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but when Charley Pride or Ray Price was singing on the radio, my daddy sang along, in his pick-up truck, with a smile.

5. Pay your bills. My daddy always, always paid his bills, on time, and he insisted that I and my sister do the same.

6. Shut the front door when you come in the house. He’d say, “I don’t have the money to air-condition the entire neighborhood.”

7. Respect whoever is in authority over you. This lesson was usually expressed in two ways: first, I was never allowed to sass my mama or my daddy. Second, my daddy never disparaged his boss or the other authorities in his life in front of me.

8. Balance your checkbook. This one kind of goes with #5, but when I got my first bank account, Daddy sat down and showed me exactly how to keep a record of the checks I wrote and keep a running balance in my check register. I think he’d be appalled at the way I now just check my balance online and don’t write down and subtract every single expenditure.

9. Credit cards are only good for people who don’t need them. Pay as you go. The only store account my mama and daddy ever had was at Myers Drugstore, where they figured they might need to buy medicine on credit in an emergency. They didn’t use credit cards. Period.

10. Let out the clutch slowly. Daddy taught me how to drive a standard transmission, stick-shift VW bug. I never liked driving, and I still don’t, but thanks to my daddy I can do it—in just about any car.

11. If you don’t like the meal Mama served, supper’s over. I was a picky eater, but my mom and dad didn’t cater to that pickiness. I skipped a few meals, but I came to the next one hungry.

12. Measure twice, cut once. I’m not sure he actually taught me this one because I tend to be impatient, but I get the concept.

13. Read the directions. When we got something new or tried something new, Daddy read the directions and then put it together or set it up. Then, he put the owners manual in a file in case he needed to refer to it later.

14. Take care of your parents. Daddy went over to his mother’s house almost every day as she got older, to check on her, get whatever she needed, just take care of her. When she had to move to a nursing home just before her death, he went to visit and took care of her until she went to be with the Lord.

15. Even grown-ups need the Lord. I asked Jesus to save me and was baptized when I was seven years old. My daddy was baptized in our Southern Baptist church the same week. We never talked much about spiritual things, but after he was baptized Daddy attended church with our family every Sunday. He served Jesus and depended on Him with a stubborn, determined faith that wouldn’t let go—even when the discouragements of old age and poor heath made him question what the Lord was doing in his life.

Thanks, Daddy. I hope it’s a happy Father’s Day in heaven, and I hope you know how much I love you and appreciate all the things you taught me.

55 Summer Memories

Miz Booshay, she of the Quiet Life, inspired this post.

When I think back on the summers of my childhood and youth, I remember:

kool-aid and push pops.

swimming (or at least playing in the water) at the Municipal Pool.

not swimming because I wasn’t allowed until the scab from my smallpox vaccination fell off.

sucking the juice from the honeysuckle blossoms.

flies and mosquitos.

going to GA camp at Heart of Texas Baptist Encampment.

climbing on the rocks at Paisano Baptist Encampment.

a pallet on the floor of the car at the drive-in movie theater.

the swamp cooler that had to be kept moist in order to cool the living room.

'The Mod Squad 1968' photo (c) 2009, Mike - license: St. Augustine grass.

playing barefoot.

playing Barbies on the front porch.

watching re-runs on TV, Hawaii Five-O and The Mod Squad.

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.

Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals in swimming at the 1972 summer Olympics.

Love Will Keep Us Together by Captain and Tenielle.

Only Women Bleed by Alice Cooper (I hated that song all summer long in 1975).

fresh apricots from the trees in our backyard.

wasps, yellow-jackets that stung me on the bottom of a bare foot.

going to Astroworld on our Houston vacation.

100 degrees on top of Pike’s Peak (a very hot summer on our second ever family vacation in Colorado).

purple hot pants and granny dresses.

Star Wars and Grease and American Grafitti.

'Chinaberries?' photo (c) 2005, Luca Masters - license: shopping.

going to the library twice a week to get my limit, ten books at a time.

reading my books in the chinaberry tree next to our house.

chasing the ice-cream truck.

Vacation Bible School.

iced tea and lemonade. Actually, we drank sweet iced tea year round. Still do.

sweating profusely and then immersing myself in a cold pool or creek or even a bathtub. Cool, clear water.

playing with the water hose or in the sprinkler.

my lovely pink parasol.

calling for “doodle bugs.” “Doodle bug, doodle bug, fly away home. You house is on fire, and your children will burn.” Rather violent-sounding, now that I think about it.

catching horny toads.

sparklers on the Fourth of July.

playing house in the shade of our pecan trees.

instead of mud pies, making “salads” out of grass and leaves and berries and feeding those salads to my dolls.

riding with the car windows rolled down, before air conditioning in cars.

'DSC_0644_cruiser_complete' photo (c) 2010, Ryon Edwards - license:, caliche roads that hadn’t been paved.

spending the night with my grandmother on Friday night and walking to the store all by myself.

walking barefoot on HOT pavement because I forgot to wear my shoes and jumping from shadow to shadow to keep my soles from burning.

teaching myself to ride my blue bicycle.

drinking Coke from a wet, frosty bottle that I could hold to my face to cool me off.

pouring water over my head to cool off.

learning to float on my stomach, on my back, but never really learning to swim, in spite of lessons and practice.

going to the air-conditioned movie theater to cool off and watch a movie.

sunburn, and peeling the skin from my sunburn.

my dad wearing a hat to keep his bald head from getting sunburned.

going fishing with my Aunt Audrey and Uncle Fred.

summer thunderstorms.


'Watermelon' photo (c) 2007, lisaclarke - license: up early or sleeping in late, both ways to enjoy those long, long days.

summer picnics.

trespassing to play down by the creek that ran near our house.

walking on the railroad tracks, looking for loose change that someone might have dropped.

watermelon and hand-cranked ice cream.

Enjoy your summer. Make some memories.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking, ch. 4, Painting, Sketching, Sculpturing

I have zero, zip, nada, no talent or ability in the areas of painting, sketching, sculpturing or creating visual artwork in any form. Nevertheless, I love this chapter of Hidden Art.

“Ideas carried out stimulate more ideas.” So true. My most recent obsession, other than watching K-dramas, is opening a small library for homeschoolers in my area who could use the books and curricula that I have collected over the years, much of which my own children have outgrown. I have a LOT of books and curriculum materials. I would like to gather these resources into one room in my house, and allow homeschool families to pay a small yearly fee to become “members” of my library. (This idea has almost nothing to do with the chapter we’re reading, but everything to do with where God is leading me in the area of hidden art. My giftedness, such as it is, has to do with reading and recommending “living books” and other educational resources.) Anyway, my idea of opening a full-fledged library is thwarted right now by the season my family is in and by the logistics of devoting an entire room to the purpose of a library. Still, I need to figure out a way to start small, and to carry out my idea in some limited way until I can get to the complete vision of a private homeschoolers’ library.

“A sermon can be ‘illustrated’ and thereby ‘translated’ at the same time, to a child sitting beside you, provided the child has any interest at all in understanding.” I used to do this , despite my lack of artistic ability, with my older children when they were preschoolers. I also sometimes had them draw a picture of what the pastor was talking about in his sermon. In fact, as they got older I had a page long form for their “sermon notes” that had a space for the date, the pastor’s name, the Biblical text, a sentence or two about the sermon, and a picture illustrating the sermon. Sometimes on the back of the sheet I drew stick figures, or Engineer Husband drew more detailed illustrations, helping the children to understand the sermon.

How the Semicolon family is expressing “hidden art” this week:
Engineer Husband is designing the program for the upcoming production of Singin’ in the Rain that two of the urchins are starring in. One of my adult children, Dancer Daughter (23) has done much of the choreography for the production.

Karate Kid (16) is in the living room playing the guitar for his sisters to sing along, as they record a a birthday gift song for a friend whose birthday is tomorrow. They’re singing this song by the group He Is We.

Betsy Bee (14) has been decorating and straightening up her bedroom, ironing the pillow cases (?!) and generally making her space beautiful.

My 80 year old mom, who lives in an apartment behind our house, makes beautifully designed cards for birthdays and anniversaries, using her computer and the artwork that she finds or purchases on the internet.

I continue to write my little blog and to try to figure out how to start a library without a designated space.

I’m looking forward to reading the posts that others write about how they incorporate the visual arts into their lives and homes.