1776 by David McCullough

I feel as if I learned a lot about the first year of the American War for Independence while reading this book, and I did enjoy it. However, all I can really remember right now is a few broad impressions.

The war went really, really badly for the Americans right up until the crossing of the Delaware and the Battle of Trenton at the very end of the year. This defeat of the Hessian troops left there to “guard” Washington’s army was such a great victory because the year up until the day after Christmas was such a disaster.

Washington’s greatest attribute was perseverance.

“Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake, and he never gave up. Again and agin, in letters to Congress and to his officers, and in his general orders, he had called for perseverance—for ‘perseverance and spirit,’ for ‘patience and perseverance,’ for ‘unremitting courage and perseverance.'”

And he needed that character attribute. He also needed it in his soldiers and officers, who would have been praiseworthy in the eyes of many, including their own friends and families at times, to have given up and gone home. I wonder if the United States of America produces men, and women, nowadays like those who persevered and fought in the grandly named, but not so grandly supplied, Continental Army of 1776.

The war in 1776, for enlisted men, was 95% slogging through forced marches and living in destitute conditions while not getting paid and worrying about your family back home. Communications were poor; disease was endemic; and if you made it through the actual shooting part of the war, you were only marginally likely to survive the other part in which sickness, starvation, and privation were daily dangers.

Several times during the battles and retreats of 1776, God seems to have saved the Continental Army, by His mercy providing a concealing fog or other helpful weather conditions or human intelligence that just came in the nick of time to preserve the army from certain destruction. At the end of 1776, when a great part of Washington’s army had their enlistment time ending and when a goodly number of them were sick and tired and ready to go home, Washington offered a bounty of ten dollars to those who would stay for six more months and managed to talk many of them into reenlisting. General Nathaniel Greene said, “God Almighty inclined their hearts to listen to the proposal and they engaged anew.” (p.286)

I do think that God had a hand in creating and preserving this nation, and I do wonder if He has finished with us —as a nation. I pray not, but we heartily need Washington’s perseverance and God’s mercy and provision now more than ever. And how many of us are praying and looking for His hand in our history?

Peter Stuyvesant by Anna and Russel Crouse

The Landmark series of history books, published by Random House in the 1950’s and 1960’s, were a series of American history books written by such famous and talented authors as John Gunther (best-selling author and journalist), Mackinlay Kantor (Pulitzer Prize winner), Sterling North (Newbery honor), Armstrong Sperry (Newbery Award winner), Robert Penn Warren (Pulitzer Prize winner), Pearl S. Buck (Nobel Prize for Literature), Jim Kjelgaard, Quentin Reynolds (World War II reporter), Van Wyck Mason (historian and best-selling novelist) and C.S. Forrester. There were 122 titles in all. For any upper elementary or middle school age student trying to get a handle on American history, these books are the gold standard.

My plan is to read as many of these Landmark American history books as I can over the course of this school year, since I am teaching American history to or exploring American history with my youngest child, age 14, this year. Z-baby will be reading some of these books with me, and I’ll be reading others on my own. I’m excited to be able to do this project and enjoy these “living” history books written by skilled historians and authors.

Peter Stuyvesant is the biography of a man, the Dutch governor of New Amsterdam, as well as the history of the founding and growth of a city, New York City. I learned about Mr. Stuyvesant’s famous wooden leg, the result of his having his leg blown off by a cannonball on St. Martin’s Island in the Caribbean. After having recovered from his injury and being fitted with a wooden leg with silver bands around it, Stuyvesant married his long-suffering wife Judith and took her to New Amsterdam where he was appointed to serve as governor by the directors of the Dutch West India Company. These investors were still waiting for their investment in a colony in the “new world” to pay off, and Peter Stuyvesant was just the man to take charge and make sure that the furs (money) began to roll into the coffers of the company.

According to the authors, Stuyvesant was a mostly good governor, if somewhat dictatorial, and he fell in love with New Amsterdam and the New World. He attempted, with some success, to keep the peace with both the Native Americans and the English to the north and south, in Massachusetts and Virginia. He made and enforced laws that brought prosperity to the Dutch settlement and its burghers until 1664 when Stuyvesant was forced to surrender the colony to British warships off the coast of Manhattan.

Students in New York and bordering states should find this story especially interesting since it’s really a history of early New York City and Manhattan Island in particular. And because NYC to some degree belongs to us all, the rest of the country might want to know where the place names we’re all familiar with—Wall Street, The Bowery, Coney Island, Sandy Hook, Flatbush, Harlem–came from. All Dutch.

On June 28, 1945, Anna Erskine married Russel Crouse, the playwright who, with his longtime partner Howard Lindsay, wrote such Broadway hits as State of the Union and Life With Father. Mr. Crouse was 23 years Anna’s senior. They had two children, the actress Lindsay Crouse, who was married for a time to playwright David Mamet, and the writer Timothy Crouse. Russell Crouse died in 1966, and Ann died at the age of 97 on December 29, 2013. The couple wrote this Landmark history book about Peter Stuyvesant and the history of old New Amsterdam and also another, Hamilton and Burr.

All the Answers by Kate Messner

Book #2 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
246 pages, 3 hours

Ava Anderson finds an old blue pencil in her family’s junk drawer. I doesn’t look special, but it is. Ava’s pencil can answer written questions with an audible voice that only Ava can hear. And the pencil always provides the right answer! The pencil can’t or won’t predict the future, but its answers to factual questions are uncanny in their accuracy. But does Ava really want to know all the answers to her fears and worries? What if the answers are scarier than the questions? What if the answers only create more questions?

I really enjoyed reading about Ava and all her worries and her magic pencil with almost all of the answers. I thought the pencil magic was timely in its similarity to the way we all turn to Google for all our answers these days. The pencil was a little more all-knowing than Google, but it still couldn’t predict the future or lay to rest all of Ava’s worries. I am as guilty as the next person of wanting to find someone or something that will answer all my questions and give me some concrete advice about what to do in sticky situations. But the truth is that only God is omniscient, and since He is, He probably has good reasons for not showering all the answers on us.

The book mentions prayer. Ava has a praying grandma. Ava herself learns to trust a little in her own bravery and competence and a little in the care and goodwill of family and friends. Near the end of the book, she does pray with her grandma, but it’s not a big epiphany or turning point in her growth as a character. Mostly the book is about learning to let go of your worries and fears and trust something. That “something” is never really defined. It’s about learning to live without all the answers, a feat we all need to accomplish, but one that is very hard to do without believing in an all-powerful, all-knowing, good God who has not only the answers but also the ability to work all things together for His glory and our good.

Anyway, there’s lots to discuss here, and the author in her acknowledgements even recommends a self-help book for kids who worry too much: What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner. I’ve not seen the self-help book, but it might be worth a look if you or your child is a worrier. Or you could just follow the guidance in this hymn, like Ava’s grandmother: take it the Lord in prayer.

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.

Poetry Friday: Goblin Feet by JRR Tolkien

I am off down the road
Where the fairy lanterns glowed
And the little pretty flitter-mice are flying
A slender band of gray
It runs creepily away
And the hedges and the grasses are a-sighing.
The air is full of wings,
And of blundery beetle-things
That warn you with their whirring and their humming.
O! I hear the tiny horns
Of enchanted leprechauns
And the padded feet of many gnomes a-coming!
O! the lights! O! the gleams! O! the little twinkly sounds!
O! the rustle of their noiseless little robes!
O! the echo of their feet – of their happy little feet!
O! the swinging lamps in the starlit globes.

I must follow in their train
Down the crooked fairy lane
Where the coney-rabbits long ago have gone.
And where silvery they sing
In a moving moonlit ring
All a twinkle with the jewels they have on.
They are fading round the turn
Where the glow worms palely burn
And the echo of their padding feet is dying!
O! it’s knocking at my heart-

Let me go! let me start!
For the little magic hours are all a-flying.

O! the warmth! O! the hum! O! the colors in the dark!
O! the gauzy wings of golden honey-flies!
O! the music of their feet – of their dancing goblin feet!
O! the magic! O! the sorrow when it dies.

Tolkien himself said of this poem: “I wish the unhappy little thing, representing all that I came (so soon after) to fervently dislike, could be buried for ever.” However, I beg to differ, and I rather like the sweet, then melancholy, feel to this verse. I suppose Tolkien came to see and wanted to portray elves and goblins and faery-creatures differently, more seriously and nobly, after he wrote this poem and before he wrote The Hobbit and LOTR. But I think there’s room in the world for both visions. And I like the bittersweetness of “magic hours all a-flying” and “the sorrow when it dies.”

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears by Mark Batterson.

Prayer is a mysterious thing. Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., writes about answered prayers and unanswered prayers and prayer circles and praying through and specific prayers and dreams and life goals. I found the book inspiring, and as I indicated, somewhat mysterious. Appropriately enough. If I had prayer figured out, I would very nearly think that I have God figured out, and that would be presumptuous and unwise of me.

“Most of us don’t get what we want because we quit praying. We give up too easily. We give up too soon. We quit praying right before the miracle happens.”

“We shouldn’t seek answers as much as we should seek God. If you seek answers you won’t find them, but if you seek God, the answers will find you.”

“Sometimes the power of prayer is the power to carry on. It doesn’t always change your circumstances, but it gives you the strength to walk through them. When you pray through, the burden is taken off of your shoulders and put on the shoulders of Him who carried the cross to Calvary.”

“Faith is the willingness to look foolish.”

“There is nothing God loves more than keeping promises, answering prayers, performing miracles, and fulfilling dreams. That is who He is. That is what He does. And the bigger the circle we draw, the better, because God gets more glory. The greatest moments in life are the miraculous moments when human impotence and divine omnipotence intersect – and they intersect when we draw a circle around the impossible situations in our lives and invite God to intervene.”

“if God doesn’t answer the way you want, you still need to praise through. That is when it’s most difficult to praise God, but that is also when our praise is most pure and most pleasing to God.”

I am in the midst of a prayer journey with God, and it looks impossible. I’ve been asking him to do something, something good and right and big and important, for nigh on ten years now. So far it’s not happening. In fact, as far as I can tell, nothing is happening that moves us closer to God’s glory or my desires. However, I’m determined to keep praying, keep wrestling, until God gives me what I am asking or until I die and go to be with Him. And if I’m in heaven and my prayers are still not answered, I’ll keep asking there.

I think that’s what this book is all about, and that’s what God asks us to do in the Bible:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. John 14:13

And if we know that he hears us—-whatever we ask—-we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:15

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. John 15:16

The other thing I got out of this book was a new encouragement and vision for goal-setting.

“Goal setting begins and ends with prayer. God-ordained goals are conceived in the context of prayer, and prayer is what brings them to full term. You need to keep circling your dreams in prayer, like the Israelites circled Jericho.”

Maybe I’ll share some of my “life goals list” with you soon. What life goals has God given you?

Weight of a Flame by Simonetta Carr

Weight of a Flame: The Passion of Olympia Morata by Simonetta Carr.

I received this book, from the author, for possible review a long time ago, started reading it, and then misplaced it. Then there was the fire, and I thought it had been lost. Then, I found it!

It is the somewhat fictionalized, but historically accurate, story of a 16th century Italian Reformation scholar and poet, Olympia Morata. The book is one of the series, Chosen Daughters, published by P & R (Presbyterian and Reformed) Publishing, whose mission is “to serve Christ and his church by producing clear, engaging, fresh, and insightful applications of Reformed theology to life.”

Weight of a Flame does serve that purpose with the story of an unusual Christian woman. I particularly liked this description of Olympia’s mother, Lucrezia: “Quiet and reserved by nature, she had learned the power of silence, leaving all matters to God.” I am trying to learn that lesson myself, but I don’t find it easy to “leave all matters to God” and remain silent in situations when I know that I should keep quiet. I sometimes have a tendency to rush in where angels fear to tread.

Olympia Morata was a classical scholar in an era when women often did not even learn to read. She was a Protestant Calvinist Christian in a largely Catholic country, Italy. She wrote poetry, essays, and letters in Greek and in Latin and translated many of the Psalms into metered poetic settings which her husband then put to music.

Some of Olympia Morata’s poetry (translated from the Greek that they were originally written in):

I, a woman, have dropped the symbols of my sex,
Yarn, shuttle, basket, thread.
I love but the flowered Parnassus with the choirs of joy.
Other women seek after what they choose.
These only are my pride and delight.
(Translator: Roland Bainton)

The King of great Olympus and the bountiful earth,
He shepherds me. What shall I desire? For in a soft meadow
He lays me down, where beautiful living water flows
to refresh me whenever toil overwhelms me.
He himself leads me in righteousness to straight paths
for the sake of his own great compassion and mercy.
If through the dark glooms of monstrous Hades I go,
all the same my mind and heart shall be unmoved,
for always have you been an aid to
Your rod and staff help me when I fall.
A most beautifully prepared table you set before me,
a great strength empowering me, if I am overcome
with hostile hands in fierce battle.
You anoint my head richly with oil, and the cup
you give me overflows with honey-sweet wine.
Always is your heart merciful to me, in order that all the days
I might dwell within your high-vaulted, great and beautiful house.
(Translator: Chris Stevens, Westminster Seminary)

Wide-ruling Lord, highest ruling of all,
Who has fashioned both male and female.
To the first man you gave a wife,
So that mankind would not fade away.
And the souls of mortals should be a bride to your Son,
And he should gladly die for the sake of his wife,
You give a united heart of happiness to husband and wife,
For the ordinance, the marriage couch, and the weddings are yours.
(Translator: Chris Stevens, Westminster Seminary)

The last poem seems particularly apropos for 2015. I would that its sentiments and assumptions were as uncontroversial now as they were in the 16th century.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking, ch.12, Clothing

“There is nothing like knitting or sewing to give on the opportunity of using time in two ways at once. Perhaps you have to go to committee meetings which take a long time, board meetings or any meetings where you do not need to take notes, where you presence is reuired for votes and possible comments and where you really sit and listen and think without much to do with your hands. The time can be doubly well employed if you have some sewing, knitting or embroidery with you.” The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer, ch. 12.

“I found myself reaching for my knitting at all times, but especially when I prayed. I still pray better with needles in my hands. Rows stand for worship, thanksgiving, petition, confession, renewal, people, problems, wisdom, insight character memory verses. Some people keep a prayer jurnal. My prayer journal is knitted into ridges and rows.” The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield.

I’m not a knitter or a seamstress, but this idea is lovely–using one’s hands to accompany one’s mind and prayers, to stay occupied and engaged while praying or listening, to be able to calm the thought that often comes to me during prayer, “Oh, but I should be doing something!”

Happy Birthday, HWL

“The student has his Rome, his Florence, his whole glowing Italy, within the four walls of his library. He has in his books the ruins of an antique world and the glories of a modern one.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

American Authors of the 19th Century - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, b. 1807.

It Is Not Always May:
“Maiden, that read’st this simple rhyme,
Enjoy thy youth, it will not stay ;
Enjoy the fragrance of thy prime,
For O ! it is not always May !”

Paul Revere’s Ride:
“In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.”

Evangeline, A Tale of Arcadie:
“Fair was she to behold, that maiden of seventeen summers.
Black were her eyes as the berry that grows on the thorn by the way-side,
Black, yet how softly they gleamed beneath the brown shade of her tresses!”

Travels by the Fireside:
“Let others traverse sea and land,
And toil through various climes,
I turn the world round with my hand
Reading these poets’ rhymes.”

The Children’s Hour:
“Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.”
*Why is it that the Children’s Hour lasts all evening at my house?

And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell like a falling star,

The Wreck of the Hesperus:
He wrapped her warm in his seaman’s coat
Against the stinging blast;
He cut a rope from a broken spar,
And bound her to the mast.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere:
“So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm, —
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!”

What The Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist:
“Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
and things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art; to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.”

A little inspiration from from Mr. Longfellow.

Poetry Friday and 5 Things

Five Things that Made Me Smile Today:
1. Z-baby, apropos of nothing: “You know, when I was little I used to get the large intestine and the small intestine mixed up with the Old Testament and the New Testament.”

2. Psalm 29: The Psalm of Seven Thunders. A Psalm of David
(My contribution to Poetry Friday, from the paraphrase version of the Bible, The Message)

Bravo, God, bravo!
Gods and all angels shout, “Encore!”
In awe before the glory,
in awe before God’s visible power.
Stand at attention!
Dress your best to honor him!
Thunderstorm over Chesapeake Bay from Flickr via Wylio

© 2005 802, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

God thunders across the waters,
Brilliant, his voice and his face, streaming brightness—
God, across the flood waters.
God’s thunder tympanic,
God’s thunder symphonic.
God’s thunder smashes cedars,
God topples the northern cedars.
The mountain ranges skip like spring colts,
The high ridges jump like wild kid goats.
God’s thunder spits fire.
God thunders, the wilderness quakes;
He makes the desert of Kadesh shake.
God’s thunder sets the oak trees dancing
A wild dance, whirling; the pelting rain strips their branches.
We fall to our knees—we call out, “Glory!”

Above the floodwaters is God’s throne
from which his power flows,
from which he rules the world.
God makes his people strong.
God gives his people peace.

3. Making a list of upcoming and recent middle grade fiction and nonfiction to read for a project I’m working on. Any outstanding suggestions for middle grade books published between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015?

4. Thinking about making valentines to send to people we love.

5. Giving and receiving a hug with my grownup Artiste Daughter.

And what made you smile today?

Read Aloud Revival

I haven’t managed to post much here on Semicolon this week for two reasons:

1) I’m reading a really long and somewhat discouraging biography of Florence Harding, and I don’t really know what I’m going to say about it. The book itself and the writing are fine; it’s the people and events that the book chronicles that are discouraging and sad. I can’t believe that anyone could be as sexually promiscuous and dishonorable as President Harding and still live with himself, much less become president of the United States. No wonder the twenties were roaring.

2) On a more encouraging note, I have been gorging myself on a podcast, listening in the car and at home every available moment. I don’t do audio-books, and I haven’t done podcasts. I’m not an auditory learner, and I find that with audiobooks, my attention tends to wander off into some foreign pasture when I’m supposed to be grazing on a good book. But this podcast! Others have tried to tell me about it; Amy at Hope Is the Word has mentioned it several times, but I probably saw the word “podcast” and skimmed over with glazed eyes.

Anyway, the podcast is Read Aloud Revival, produced by Sarah MacKenzie at Amongst Lovely Things. I found it on iTunes and began by listening to the interview with Sarah Clarkson, On Living a Story-formed Life, because Ms. Clarkson’s website,, is where I actually tuned in and the podcast registered in my brain. So, Sarah’s interview with Sarah was lovely, and quotable, and I went around thinking about living a story formed life and and creating a family culture of books and stories.

Then, I saw that Sarah MacKenzie had interviewed one of my favorite people, Melissa Wiley of Here in the Bonny Glen, so I had to listen to that episode of the podcast. Melissa made me remember all about how I love her philosophy of tidal homeschooling and how I want to just slow don and read more, but also more slowly, and quit worrying about getting all the subjects covered. And I thought about how I really want to meet Melissa someday (and now both Sarahs, too).

If you give a mouse a cookie . . . I just had to next go back and start at the beginning of Read Aloud Revival podcast and listen to every episode. So far there are eighteen episodes, and I’ve listened to numbers one through eight, plus number seventeen, the Sarah Clarkson interview. Thus far, I’ve been inspired to read aloud and read aloud some more by Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, even though my youngest child is thirteen now and could read everything for herself, although she doesn’t want to read anything by herself (another story). And I’ve been drawn to a whole list of audiobooks and storytelling recordings that I would love to beg, borrow, steal or buy if absolutely necessary, not for me, but for my youngest and for my library. And I’m determined to make more time for Shakespeare in our days. And I want to have more in-depth and interesting conversations with my children about the books we’re reading.

Oh, flibbertigibbet, you don’t want to listen to me talking about this podcast any longer; go thou, and listen for yourself. I am inspired and replete with homeschooling read aloud goodness. Thank you, Ms. MacKenzie and Read Aloud Revival for the shot in the arm that my homeschool year needed.

Finally, after I listen to the other ten or so episodes of Read Aloud Revival, does anyone have any other podcast suggestions for me? They don’t have to be about reading or homeschooling, just any podcasts that I can subscribe to and listen to in the car that you think are insightful and engaging.

I think I’ll start a list to refer back to.

Sarah MacKenzie has her own list of podcasts and other listening stuff:

Quiddity: CIRCE Institute podcast.

Homeschooling IRL with Kendra Fletcher.