Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Back on my 2016 Booklist and a 2017 Book Announcement!

It's that time of year where we review our life. Quite frankly I had been discouraged by how little I accomplished. One of my goals was to work through my huge stack of books waiting to be read. I could only remember a few to share about. However, once I started perusing the bookcase, I was surprised by how much I infact have read!

First and foremost for me, is the Bible which I did read through this year. The pink binder contains my Bible Study Fellowship notes from this year's study of John, although I also studied Revelation last year. Each week we receive 6 pages that detail that weeks' study, full of 30-80  citations. (By the way  Bible Study Fellowship is international, teaches Scripture with Scripture, and has classes for men, women and children. I highly recommend it!)


These are the "young adults" books that I've read. The George Mason book was well researched. I blogged about it here. The bottom 4 books are from the incredible Landmark Series which I plan to blog on soon. Though written for kids, they are perfect not only for homeschool but also for big people to read too since history textbooks are so lacking in accurate content.


This is picture 1 of 2 of the "big people" books that I read. I actually read the couture sewing book a second time, which I blogged about here.
Last spring I was in major 18th century and George Washington mode, which is when I read the next 4 books. I blogged about Martha Washington: An American Life here. I shared a bit about Washington's Gardens at Mount Vernon, here, though I didn't think much of the premise of the book. Too far fetched for me! lol I had to separate fact from opinion with this book. However the photography was stunning!
After reading Dining with the Washingtons I toured Mount Vernon, again, with my daughter (and we got our photo with Abraham Lincoln). We toured the newly restored home and were shocked that they no longer use the dining room as the dining room, but now only as the reception and dancing room. I asked where all those guests that the Washington's were famed for having, ate? I was told in the little eating room. Um, what? I challenged them on that, and asked how in the world everyone would fit there. They said they were put out into the foyer to eat. What? We've always been taught that English  Country dance fit perfectly into the foyers and the dining room was perfectly large enough to hold all the numerous guests...then they could have pushed back the tables for the dancing afterwards (in my mind...but not according to their research, they said.) Also the  ugliest brown painted chairs were on the veranda on the back porch so I asked what happened to the gorgeous green chairs. I was told the brown chairs were painted brown to look like wood. Um, what? With sloppy drip marks? That didn't sound like proper historical conservation or restoration to me. Well, I guess they are the experts, but I have a hard time believing all that. lol So now I want to reread the Dining with the Washingtons book again to see if I missed something! lol
I got the Earl Hamner book when I visited Walton's Mountain, then I blogged about the book here, with two more posts to come.

I got all the Veith books at Patrick Henry College. He was one of my son's literature professors. I've blogged about Postmodern Times here and God at Work here. I attended 2 Constitutional Literacy Seminars with Michael Farris (who founded Patrick Henry  College) and Jenna Ellis in Feb 2016 which I blogged about here. This post also shares why many  of these books were the ones I chose to read this year. I haven't blogged about it but in October 2016 I got to attend their seminar again, in person! While there I bought the book that Ellis wrote The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution. I  shared a bit about here. I was on the Eric Metaxas booklaunch team for If You Can Keep It. I wrote several posts that are catalogued here.


At the top is this great book on Political Life in Eighteenth-Century Virginia which I blogged a bit about here.


Although I took several books with me when I had to drive and sit and wait for my kids, there were usually issues with reading them. I kept forgetting where I left off, so I resorted to crossword puzzles that my daughter has bought for me in the last few years. They have become a bit addictive and I'm figuring out the pattern to even the maddening advanced ones. I hope they are improving my analytic skills.


These are the books that I started reading but haven't finished, so I will pick them up again in 2017. You might note two copies of Wide as the Waters. I bought this years ago, read, it and learned a lot at the surface letter of the people and events. Later I read about it in Michael Farris' book From Tyndale to Madison which I shared a bit about here. Turns out Wide as the Waters was one of the inspirations for the Tyndale to Madison book.  So I began rereading it and wow! I started learning a whole new layer of information on liberty and freedom that I missed the first time. A few months ago I found the hardback copy of Wide as the Waters in the used bookstore for a great price. It's such a nice copy, it's such a great book, I couldn't resist. So now I have two copies!


Which leads me to the announcement! I am on another Eric Metaxas Booklaunch Team! This one is for the reprint of his book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About  God (But Were Afraid to Ask). From what I've seen of the book, is a great primer for those who are terrified of digging into deep thinking verbose apologetic books. I will receive my fee copy in a few weeks to start reviewing. Stay tuned!

Copy Courtesy Eric Metaxas Booklaunch Team
Image courtesy of the Eric Metaxas Book Launch Team

For a catalogue of posts I've done about  Eric Metaxas and his other works, see this post.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Sewing a Pink and Purple Zipper Case for my Daughter

Last summer my daughter saw some patterns for zipper cases in the quilt shop, so she asked me to sew a large one for her for a Christmas gift. I gulped. I didn't think I could ever sew anything like that. Nevertheless I bought a pattern and some fabric...and procrastinated.

Earlier this month I attempted sewing a zipper case for my Secret Sister, because she wasn't expecting one. If I failed, I wouldn't send it. Although I had to significantly change some aspects of the pattern, everything worked out and it actually looked like a zipper case! It even worked like a zipper case!

A few weeks ago my daughter wanted to go shopping with me to choose the fabric. I assured her not only did I already have her fabric, but that she would love it. Purple is her favorite color. She likes traditional. Flowers are good. I bought the pink and purple for the fashion fabric. I had bought the yellow at the same time for a later zipper case for her, but while digging for a lining fabric I didn't realize I needed, well...I settled on the yellow.  The lavender toile was for the nterlining, because I don't like modern man made products as the pattern suggested. I always prefer using a fabric lining.


Two hours later I had a zipper case!


She wants to store her gel pens in here.


The zipper actually works!


She loved it!


Mission accomplished!


The ribbon tab I borrowed from her stash...


It will be fun to hear what her classmates say!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Peak at Christmas in our Home...and a Peak at an 18th Century Gown

It took me 3 weeks to decorate the house! It's never an easy task for me to figure out where to put things. This year I whittled down the decor and donated some extras to the Salvation Army. And I think I finally found a home for everything we like the most! Although I did not get everything done on my to do list, I think I did conquer where to put everything. Then I took pictures for next year's reference. This has been my year to focus on organization. With that one goal in mind, I think next year will be far more streamlined. Here's hoping anyway!

One of my nativity sets...


Also my family has developed an affection for multiple Christmas trees. A few years ago we were visiting our next door neighbor (you know him as the Patriot Honor Ride bicycle guy). His wife loves Christmas trees so she has one in nearly every room. All I could think of was, "Wow. That's a lot of work." lol My family gave me "the look." All they could think of was, "So, when is Mom/Laurie going to join the club?" lol Thus, my daughter and I unpacked the old artificial tree from Texas to put in our basement. It is decorated with candy colored lights, reminiscent of the San Antonio Riverwalk, and the misc ornaments.


Lanterns from Colonial Williamsburg with new decorations for the season. The greenery had been sitting in boxes for years, waiting for a home. The bows I made from new ribbon I had recently found.


Our real tree that my son chopped down.



I love this village that we collected back when my daughter was a baby.  It's simply from Walmart.



The train was a gift to my son, when he was a toddler, from my dad. I grew up with a train around our under-the-Christmas-tree-village. So this feels like home.


I bought this tiny ornament nativity set for a gingerbread nativity stable I had made with my kids when they were toddlers. I think they look quite cute on the chess/checkers table.



The French horn was purchased for a Medieval Feast history presentation we did years ago. This year I finally put a bow on it! 


Wish I could figure out how to effectively do lights in the garland on the stairwell in such a way that we don't trip over the wires. The garland used to be in the loft in our Texas house.



After all the kitchen reorganization I moved all the birdhouses to the main floor powder room...


I love these Boyd looking bears with my other bird house, which is also decorated...

IMG_2697 is tree #4 in the room where we mainly hang out! I got this on super duper sale to fit the space and to need little decorating! It comes partly flocked with red berries and pine cones and lights. As I  unpacked the box my son came in and took everything over, to my delight! Done! I did put all my Convention of States pins to the tree. Then I made a bow to put at the top! 



Two of my three snow globes. This one is a music box. I wanted as many nativity sets as possible, to showcase the Reason for the Season.



The window and birds from Colonial Williamsburg...


...the Governor's Palace gate and bird from Colonial Williamsburg!


The pointsettias I purchase as soon as possible after Thanksgiving so we can enjoy them as long as possible!


I have a thing for bows, berry rings and candles. These candlestick holders were free many years ago.


Another nativity set. I love grapevine! I'm still playing around with how to display these: on greenery (real or fake) v lace.


Changeable taffeta bow!


More berry rings!


Love these wise men...


My 18th century gown, still a work-in-progress. Love this lantern which looks very 18th century, with another newly made bow and some greenery from the box. Sometimes that bowl has candy in it.  My son bought some dark chocolate cherry cordials, which tasted very complicated yet decadently19th century. They didn't last long in that bowl.


The boxes (far left) in front of the piano were quite cheap and make great storage.


I have a thing for  kissing balls, as well.


I saw several in the store this year that I had to walk away from. So I succeeded in no new purchases of kissing balls this year.


Of course this one came from Texas!


In order to have more family time, I try to do a simpler dinner than in past years. Hence our English Christmas dinner...Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding!


My son took the family picture...


It was so nice to have a day together! We had a great time!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Growing up in the Shadow of Walton's Mountain

My grandfather used to say that nobody owns a mountain; but getting born, and living, and dying in its shadow, we loved Walton's Mountain and felt it was ours. The Walton family had endured in that part of the Blue Ridge for over 200 years. A short time in the history of a mountain. Still, our roots had grown deep in its earth.
When I was growing up there with my brothers and sisters, I was certain that no one on Earth had quite so good a life. I was fifteen and growing at an alarming rate. Each morning I woke convinced that I had added another inch to my height while I slept.

I was trying hard to fill my father's shoes that winter. We were in the middle of the Depression, and the mill, on which our village depended, had closed. My father had found work in a town 50 miles away and he could only be with us on weekends. On Christmas Eve, early in the afternoon, we had already started looking forward to his homecoming. (Prologue from The Homecoming,


Last summer my family and I drove from our house down route 29 to Jefferson County, Virginia, specifically to the town of Schuyler. We turned at the junction of route 6, then drove along a winding country road along the Rockfish River "to a place where the road just stops." (p xix) Many of us know this destination as Walton's Mountain.


While I was at Walton's Mountain I bought the biography, Earl Hamner: From Walton's Mountain to Tomorrow by James E. Person, Jr. It was even autographed by Earl Hamner, himself! That is pretty good validation for the author's work, so based on that I assume this biography is approved by the man it is written about. In fact, the author says he worked quite closely to Mr. Hamner in developing the book. In fact the author even has a quote reflecting Hamner's surprise that anyone would have any interest in writing his biography. Ahhhh! Perhaps that is why I've been finding so little information regarding the Hamner/Jefferson connection that I set out to discover. My inspiration for conquering this information comes only from my own fascination with the 18th century and knowing that the Hamner family lived in the Blue Ridge quite near Thomas Jefferson at the same time. Surely, there had to be a connection. And I found it! Stay tuned for that blog post.

Even though this book has some family history, this book is enormously heavy with literary analysis. For those of you into that sort of have bonus material in numerous books that influenced Mr. Hamner as well as Hamner's own works being thoroughly analyzed as compared to Hamner's life. However for those of you who feel that is a little over the top, no worries! I think you'd still like the book. It is filled with numerous photographs of Hamner and his family and plenty of details from his life to count as a biography. It is easy to skim the literary parts as you wish. I think fans will find the book a good investment. As for me, I have two more blog posts coming from having read this book.


For myself, I've taught plenty of literary analysis, so I actually enjoyed the intermingling of biography with literature. It helped me to explore Earl Hamner, the writer. Also I had lots of interest from having grown up with the television series, The Waltons. It was a must for my mom to watch, which meant I watched it too. Key for me was John Boy's character. I have always enjoyed I always felt he was a bit of a kindred spirit. I've also always enjoyed Richard Thomas's voice inflection as he read stories aloud, which encouraged me to fall in love with reading books aloud to children in my classroom and in my own home. (Richard Thomas famously portrayed John Boy, who represented the creator of the show, Earl Hamner.)


Reading this book was quite the adventure into history and literary analysis. If I were still homeschooling, I would use portions of this book to teach 20th century literature. This is one of the forthcoming blog posts I have planned. In all the analysis, the part that especially spoke to me was the contrast of the Great Depression and the Cold War. Um, what? How could they compare? Regarding The Waltons television show, a comment was made in the book about Cold War children portraying Great Depression children. wheels began to turn.

With that I begin the story of my own adventure in learning more about a Virginia mountain I experienced from afar as a child in Texas through a television show. Today I live in Virginia, not far from route 29, a common road the Waltons often traveled. In some ways, perhaps, Walton's Mountain overshadowed my life as well as John Boy's.

The Cold War years in which I grew up were indeed frought with tension that was sort of set in the background of day to day life. My family, neighbors and classmates didn't dwell on that tension, yet we certainly spoke out during history class when we studied the Cold War. Many of us were military families. Classmates had seen the Berlin Wall first hand. Few of us had a lot of stuff. We lived life rather simply due to economics. Yet we seemed to create great memories of fun moments with what we had. My friends and I focused on God and family.  We took life realistically, enjoying the good moments when they came, and dealing with the difficult as needed. Most of us grew up with The Waltons. It was interesting reading Person's argument on the Cold War/Depression connection.  Perhaps the impact that The Waltons made on the Cold War generation was indeed profound.

Even though families are said to be shattered these days, and God is said to be dead, if people can revisit the scenes and places where these values did exist, possibly they can come to believe in them again, adapt some kind of belief in God, or faith in the family unit, or just getting home again. (Hamner quote, xviii-xix)


It was true that Hamner had always wanted to be a writer. (p5) There were two books in Hamner's home: the Holy Bible and a book on beekeeping. (p6) The town's economy was centered around a soapstone quarry, which we drove by as we entered town. Below is a piece of soapstone from the original foundation of the Hamner house (shown above). Amazingly, the quarry is just around the corner.


Like many families that lived through those desperate times, the Hamners were poor, though they did not consider themselves as such; like others who lived through the Depression the Hamners reasoned that they, after all, were experiencing the same circumstances as everyone else. This was the hand life had dealt them, they believed, and it fell to them simply to make the best of it. (p7)
All during the school year, my mother supervised all eight of us children as we gathered around the long wooden kitchen table to do our homework. Then one by one we drifted off to bed and there, sometimes with snow falling outside, we would call goodnight to each other, then sleep in the knowledge that we were secure. We thought we lived in the best of all possible times. (p8)
During one summer vacation, we played the Walton game of calling out "goodnight ________" to one another. My family didn't usually get this silly, but we did that night. And it was wonderful.

"In the twilight years of the American youth movement of the mid to late 1960's, with its emphasis on se*ual adventuring, protesting American involvement in the Vietnam conflict (and the American military in general), throwing down the established order, and sneering at all things beloved by earlier generations, a wave of nostalgia came to the fore in American culture. This was manifested during the early seventies by a fashion for collecting and displaying memorabilia of days past: old photos, movie posters from Hollywood's golden era, soft-drink signs from store displays, penny-banks, and dozens of other artifacts from the 1930's and earlier. Amid a faltering economy, strong evidence of political corruption, and immense social upheaval, many younger people wondered if things had always been as unsettled and unsettling as they were in the present era, and if there was any truth to the old stories told by their parents and grandparents of quiet joy amid struggle and hardship during the Great Depression. Hamner's short novel, The Homecoming, the television special it inspired, and The Waltons arrived on America's cultural landscape at precisely this time of widespread reassessment and yearning for a simpler life." (p58-59)


I've never made a connection in my childhood between escaping the Cold War with nostalgia...yet in my history studies I've learned that this tends to happen. Looking back, I suppose that could be so. It certainly was fun seeing and experiencing a different era through The Waltons. I learned lots of history. Although I listened to the news growing up, it was something I preferred to avoid. However a show like The Waltons was a place where I was willing to hang out.


As in The Homecoming we will be telling warm stories about the Walton Family who live in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the mid-thirties. We never mention a specific year and the time is roughly: The Depression...In each show we wish to capture as much color of the times as possible: Radio broadcasts, songs of the thirties, Burma Shave signs, NRA posters, etc. We feel that this is important not only for authenticity but for the nostalgia today's audiences feel for the recent past. (Hamner's description of The Waltons to Lorimar productions, despite critic complaints that the show was dripping in saccharine nostalgia., p58-59)


These days I am always telling my kids that life was different when I was a kid. Thus I have to step back and smile when I read these words of  nostalgia with the Waltons. Yes. My mom and grandparents would watch the show with me and tell me of the past, not that my mom had been born yet. But she'd tell me of her past. My grandparents told me of their past. I guess this has been done for generations past...and will continue for generations to come.

In The Homecoming and The Waltons, Hamner spoke to America's historical consciousness, which had been numbed by the rapid and jarring events of the post-World War II era. Writing of the importance of a people's collective memories, historian Wilfred W. McClay has claimed, 'In the end, communities and nation-states are constituted and sustained by such shared memories-by stories of foundation, conflict, and perseverance. The leap of imagination and faith, from the thinness and unreliability of our individual memory to the richness of collective memory, that is the leap of civilized life; and the discipline of collective memory is the task not only of the historian, but of every one of us. Historical consciousness draws us out of a narrow preoccupation with the present and with our "selves," and ushers us into another larger world-a public world that "cultures" us, in all the sense of that word.' (p59-60)
And this is the common tie that binds together all the fans that watched The Waltons.We instantly connect to the past in our shared memories.

This is important because, as the eighteenth-century English statesman Edmund Burke has noted, 'People will not look forward to posterity, who never looked backward to their ancestors.' During the 1970's-a decade riven by the worst economy since the Depression, political corruption in the highest office of the land, the collapse of American resolve in Southeast Asia, and widespread cynicism-The Waltons gave many Americans a weekly glimpse of a time when hope was the nation's lifeblood, during an almost-forgotten era in their history as a people. (p61, Note: This book was written in 2006)

Oh, how I remember those years of the political corruption that the above quote refers to. I'd come home from school, day by day, anxious to see after school programming on tv. However to my dismay, day after day, the senate hearings continued. I'd agonize to my parents, "When will this ever stop?" They agonized with me, "We have no idea." I'd run off to play with friends, burying my frustrations in the autumnal leaves that my friends and I would rake, pile up, jump in, then rake again.

Yes, my memories are of watching a family, based on a real family of the Depression, showing us week by week how they pulled together during tough times. That is a heritage that my families in the past held on to. When I taught the Great Depression in my homeschool, I asked my mom how her family got through those difficult times. She hadn't been born yet, but she knew the stories of how the family pulled together by offering lodging and food to other family members seeking work. Family sticks together. They banded together. We see that in The Waltons too.

In 1933 we were in the grip of the Great Depression. The soapstone mill and quarry upon which our village depended had closed and with it went payrolls, the company operated commissary, the cheerful sounds of a busy industry and a pleasant sense of security. People struggled to keep their families fed. In my family we relied on our family vegetable garden, my father's hunting and fishing, fruit and berries that were free for the picking. For some modest monetary income, my father took a job forty miles away in Waynesboro. He worked there five days a week and returned home on Friday evening. To get home he had to take a bus to Hickory Creek where Route 6 meets Route 29. From there he would either hitchhike or walk the six miles [to Schuyler].
On Christmas Eve of that year my father was late arriving home. A heavy snow had fallen and there were reports of accidents on Route 29. My mother was worried and, in the age-old practice, the mother sent the oldest son to look for his father. That is what happened to me that night, and the events of that night became the inspiration for this book. (Hamner's description of The Homecoming, p60-61)

Although The Homecoming is based on this true story of that one Christmas Eve where John Boy searched for his father, there is one key difference that stuck out to me. John Boy in The Homecoming was 15. Earl Hamner was 10. Our modern sensibilities probably could not conceive a boy of 10 going on a man's job, of traveling through icy and snowy conditions at night to search for his father who might have been in a bus accident. It is beyond the imagination. Yet for Earl Hamner, that was reality.

In The Waltons, the character of writer Earl Hamner Jr. was called John-Boy, and he was the oldest son. No matter what John-Boy experienced in a particular story, each episode was wrapped up nicely in Hamner's own voice, expressing gratitude for his family and the values he was taught growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the Depression.
Those tributes were often the most touching parts of the show. Critics called The Waltons saccharine and unrealistic, but the family members weren't portrayed as perfect, and they faced many challenges. They often stumbled along the way, even the adults, but each family member struggled hard to live life under the framework of the family's principles and values. Honesty, hard work, respect, responsibility, self-sacrifice, compassion, and kindness-today they package it and call it 'character education.' (p85-86)

"By Hamner's own admission, family life in the Walton household is a bit idealized: it is truthful in essence, though some aspects of fact are veiled to protect his family's privacy." (p87)

Since The Waltons is autobiographical, I was interested to know how his real family felt about seeing their lives unfold on television. Of course they had already experienced this 'exposure' to a limited degree in the publication of Spencer's Mountain. 'Not shock, but delight at reliving those times,' Hamner told me. 'You know, Thomas Wolfe "couldn't go home again" because of the things he'd written, but I can go home, and do, because I've written with affection about our life together. (Margaret Fife Tanguay's interview with Earl Hamner, p87)

The Waltons experienced various "themes as theft, displacement from one's home, death in wartime, life-endangering injuries, kidnapping at gunpoint, vandalism, arson, miscarriage, and despair; though some episodes also dealt with lighter issues such as handling loneliness; caring for injured animals; and coping with the honest mistakes, misunderstandings, and hardships common to everyday life." (p87-88)

People used to attack the show for being too sweet, too idealistic. But it honored the lives of ordinary people, and the simple passages of their lives have as much significance on Walton's Mountain as they do in Buckingham Palace. Growing up is growing up. Getting old is getting old. Coming to terms with your children is coming to terms with your children. (Richard Thomas, p88)

Earl Hamner "was able to look at all the different characters and personalities he grew up with and find a way to prize them with their flaws. People sometimes accused the show of being saccharine, and sometimes it probably is saccharine. But there are also moments of human frailty or friction that he also captured, that I think really did resonate with people. And I think that if it was completely saccharine, and we weren't dirty and grubby and barefoot and bickering and noisy and doing all the things real groups of children do, it wouldn't have been as meaningful for people." (Kami Cotler, p88)

So, for all the naysayers who focus on the saccharine image of The Waltons, there is plenty of reality that they dealt with. We can all identify with the struggles the Waltons have been through. That is what makes them classic. People from around the world can identify with this mountain family of the Blue Ridge, who struggled, who endured, who loved.

There is a view around the world from Walton's Mountain. Watching the program in syndication, some German viewers have declared that they believe the series is set in the Vienna Woods. The series is beloved in India, with Hamner occasionally receiving fan letters from the subcontinent. Families who view the program in Sweden and in Greece identify with it, as do the Irish and Australians. In England, The Waltons continues to be especially popular with television audiences. In the United States (and today, from around the world), fans of the series have written often to Hamner to say that The  Waltons reminds them of the way they remember their childhood during the Depression, or the way they wish their childhood had been. (p91-93)

All of us who grew up watching The Waltons can say that we too grew up in the shadow of Walton's Mountain.
Earl Hamner: From Walton's Mountain to Tomorrow by James E. Person, Jr.