Book Review: Dwelling Places by Vinita Hampton Wright

Map of USA with Iowa highlighted

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I found Vinita Hampton Wright by accident. I’m part of a writers’ conference newsfeed, I guess (I don’t remember signing up for it), and Wright’s book, The Soul Tells a Story was going to be the focus for a workshop at the conference. I kept the email because the book looked interesting. However, it was four months until I considered the book again.

One Saturday, I was cleaning up emails, and I noticed the Soul email again. I read through the review and then looked the title up on my library’s online catalog. Sure enough, they carried the Soul book as well as other books by Wright. I decided to reserve a bunch of her titles, including Dwellling Places.

I just finished Dwelling Places over the weekend. The tale takes place in Iowa as one family goes their four separate ways to find comfort in the midst of losing their farm. Mack deals with depression, his wife, Jodie, has an affair, Kenzie finds solace in fundalmentalist Christianity, and the son, Young Taylor, finds comfort with the Goths.

Wright shares the perspective of each person in the family, including Mack’s mother, Rita. We see the family’s trials through each person’s eyes, and as the turning point comes together, we see these conflicting comforts fall apart, and the family come together again, but with a new perspective to each person within the family unit. Values and beliefs are challenged and stretched, but not denigrated and thrown away for a modern band aid. A truly wonderful story.

Wright doesn’t write a trashy or simplistic novel, but a story illustrating how people deal with change by either turning to faith or despair, people or images. Wright writes with passion and she understands the human condition mingled with hope and faith.

I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in looking at your own soul and asking yourself, “How would I react if I was put in this situation?” A trite or easy answer will not work, and instead, Wright puts a mirror up for the reader to see into her own psyche and soul when faced with trials. I give this five out of five stars.

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Book Review: “The Doctor’s Lady” by Jody Hedlund

Portrait of Narcissa Whitman

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Christian fiction has come a long way in the past 20 years. Less crying and helplessness and more strength and resolve in today’s heroines. Jody Hedlund’s new book, “The Doctor’s Lady,” is one instance where the main female character is strong and brave–not weak and wimpy.

“The Doctor’s Lady” is based on the true story of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, American missionaries who choose to marry so that they could fulfill their dreams of spreading the Gospel. According to the novel, Priscilla (Narcissa’s character) has plans to go to India as a teacher-missionary, but can’t because she isn’t married. Meanwhile, Dr. Elijah Ernest (based on Marcus’ character) wants to start a medical clinic in the Oregon Territory, but is not supported by the American Mission Board because he’s not married. Through a set of circumstances, Prisilla and Eli meet, go through the angst of whether they should marry, decide to make their marriage a business partnership (re: platonic only), and later, fall in love.

The story is exciting and emotional–but in a realistic sense. Hedlund uses wonderful writing to present 3-D characters who deal with disappointment, loss, sickness, and adversary.

I give this book five out of five stars. I put Hedlund’s writing right up there with Francine Rivers and Kristen Heitzmann. And I recommend this book to you if love romance, strong characters, and an adventurous story based on early American history. Currently, I’m reading Hedlund’s first book called the “Preacher’s Bride,” based on John and Elizabeth Bunyan.

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Movies and moving

Today, the kids and I went to see “Despicable Me” in 3-D. My husband, John, and I heard good reviews, and all of us have had a very busy week with moving my office into the master bedroom so my oldest son can have the room. Plus, this morning we woke up to another dreary day with rain pouring down. I was glad for the rain–my vegetable and flower gardens need the soaking water to brighten them up.

But back to the movie: I used the movie as a carrot. So when the boys decided to fight in the car; not get their chores done; or argue with me, they would get a tick on the memo board by their respective names. We needed to leave by 1:20 to get to the matinee on time, and they were both one point away from losing the movie. Yet, they perservered and we headed toward the highway which would take us to Carmike Theaters.

Well, we got to the theater by dodging raindrops from the car to the box office. We got up to the ticket counter where I said, “Two kids and one adult for Despicable Me.”

“Twenty-nine dollars, please,” the clerk said.

“Huh? I thought we could see the movie in 2-D rather than 3-D.”

“Sorry, ma’am. We only have 3-D.”

“Okay, hold the tickets,” I said as I took the boys off to the side to catch my breath.

You see, thirty years ago, when my mom would take my brother, cousins or neighbors, and I to the movies, she got in for under $10. And I think that included drinks, popcorn, and candy. Granted, I expected to pay $20 for the matinee–but $30, come on!

Anyway, after I recovered from my shock, I went back up to the ticket window to order two kids and one adult tickets. I couldn’t let the kids down when they worked so hard to behave. However, I couldn’t move past my frugality so, we did have to forgo the snacks. Instead, we settled into our seats with our 3-D glasses.

I was a little annoyed at first because the first 20 minutes were spent showing Coke and popcorn ads as well as very annoying commercials. But once we stomached our way through the previews–that included a remake on Rampunzel–we settled into watch the movie.

Overall, the three of us enjoyed the movie. My youngest guffawed through most of the potty humor parts. And I admit I laughed a lot too. Watching my boys enjoying their afternoon–even without popcorn–as well as having some good laughs helped me to forget the pain of paying $30 for a Wednesday afternoon movie.

BTW: The movie is worth going to–but if you can see it in 2-D, all the better. Your wallet will thank you for it.

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Picking Blueberries in the July heatwave

On Monday, July 5th, it was a great day to pick blueberries. We went to northern Pennsylvania at the beginning of blueberry season to find fat, ripe berries to pick. The boys enjoyed getting under the irrigation boom while sneaking a couple of berries in their mouth.

We’re not early birds, so we picked under the hot July sun in the early afternoon, at the start of a four-day heat wave. The predicted temperature–in the high 90’s. The following day promised to hit the century mark–so we were thankful to hit the farm a day before it got to be too sweldering!

The guys, including my husband, decided to take off their shirts while they worked the bushes. There was a speaker in the middle of the field to scare away the birds. It became a little unnerving to hear the rat-tat-tat of gunfire in the middle of a quiet afternoon. Yet, we continued to pick and pick and pick. I finally had enough after an hour, and said, “I’m done. How many do you have?” I asked my husband.

He said, “I think about 5 lbs.”

We took our four buckets and consolidated them into two where we ended up having half the predicted amount. But we left feeling satisfied at the end of the day that we’ll now have Pa. grown blueberries to add to our muffins, pancakes, and cereal in the morning. As we pulled out of the farm’s driveway, we drank our water deeply, melted against the car seats as the air conditioning came out full force, and headed south again.

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It’s Summertime and the Living is Easy?

 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way that they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to too much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure,  to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

Titus 2:3 NIV

It’s summertime, and the living is supposed to be easy. But you, as a WAHM, know that it can get a little complicated when the kids are home from school. My case in point: Today, is the first, official day that my children are off from school. I’m trying to balance my writing assignments while trying to get the kids to finish their chores, not to fight, and to go outside to enjoy the sunshine. There are rewards involved in this–one child has a sleepover to go to and the other has saved up his money to buy a DS–which we’re planning on buying one tonight. Both of these activities won’t happen if the kiddos don’t get along, don’t go outside for at least 15 minutes every hour, and if they don’t get their chores done on time.

Of course, you’ll read in many WAHM blogs, Web sites, and books to get a sitter, work while the kids sleep, ignore the kids, etc. But I take a different path to dealing with kids at home. I do what my Amish and Mennonite neighbors do. Many of them are farmers or small business owners. They incorporate family life with their work. Granted, there are older siblings  that can help Mom during the day or occassionally, the young mom will get a mother’s helper. But, overall, these families include their children in their work–they don’t put the kids to the side in order to work. Thus, that’s what I aim to do as a writer. It’s a little bit harder, since writers need solitude, but I believe it can be done with some creativity.

WAHMS–we decided to work out of our homes so we could enjoy motherhood. Embrace it–and embrace your children at the same time. Include them in your work–whether that means that they work on their writing while you interview, report, and edit. Or teach them to stuff envelopes. Maybe they play quietly at your feet (I know; this is a perfect scenario that I dream of every summer). Every WAHM has different tasks that need to be done on a daily basis. Yet, we all need to remember that these times with our children are short-lived–and we’ll have more time when they’re out of the nest–to work full-time with no distractions. For now, however, try to make it through the day, working at home and enjoying the “easy living” with your children while there is still time.

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Just another day at the office


“She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.”

Proverbs 31: 24-27 NIV

Where do you have your office–your work station–in your house? When I started freelance writing, it was a corner in my bedroom. Eventually, I moved to a corner in the dining room where I could still watch the kids in the back yard while I interviewed and wrote articles. When we moved into our new home, my office moved to a spare bedroom. But times and family needs change, and in August, I’ll be moving my office once again to the dining room table because the boys need to have their own rooms.

Thus, it is with everything else in life. Things change, expand, and change again. As work at home moms, we need to change, expand, grow. Sometimes, we can see the changes coming, like when our oldest goes to Kindergarten. At other times, the changes comes on us unexpectantly, such as when all the kids are in school, other moms go back into the workforce, and you find yourself alone. That’s what happened to me this year.

Granted, my two boys were in school full-time for the past two years, but this year, I experienced the most growing pains. I always imagined that I’ll have more time to write and develop my niche when the kids were in school full-time. Yet, I noticed that the quiet did get to me, and my demons, such as my generalized anxiety disorder and depression, became more apparent.

However,  I learned this year, that work at home moms, like all other moms, need to take a break from their work schedules and get out. Bible studies, meeting a friend for coffee, and volunteering are all a part of this growing process. Granted a lot of WAHMS will say, “I need to do this and this. I need a routine. There’s no time for volunteering because I have deadlines.”

Yes, those statements are true, and I followed them to the letter over the past two years. But I also burned out, became depressed, and realized that one of the perks of freelancing is the freedom to design my schedule according to my family and my needs.

Now, I’m not saying to throw caution to the wind and volunteer for every school activity, have lattes at 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, and all of the work will get done on its own. What I am saying is, build flexibility into your schedule–realize that you’re not working for a boss, and you work at home because you still want to be present for your kids before and after school. Otherwise, you’d be working for someone else.

The lesson I learned: Be there, enjoy the ride, and continue to blossom into the woman called you to be.

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Why become a WAHM?

Why do you want to be a WAHM–(Work at Home Mom)? Where are you at in your business planning? Or have you been working at home for 20 years?

Are you pregnant? Or do you have older children? Where are you in your mothering journey?

I have two elementary school children. I have been a WAHM since 2000. I started out as a tutor, became a freelance writer while tutoring, and then, became a freelance writer. It’s been quite a journey. I’ve had some bumps along the way, and I hope to challenge you to think about your priorities, handling both work and home-making under the same roof, among the other challenges of working at home.

I love this journey and I’m glad I’m on it. Believe me, it’s much better than working away from home and having to juggle the demands of a boss and a family. And just because my kids are in school doesn’t mean that my road is necessarily easier. I always thought that once the kids are in school that I would be able to sit down and write. Well, I still get distracted by loads of laundry, planting the garden, and people calling me. But, there’s also school vacation days, snow days, and sick days too. Nothing’s easy–but it’s worth it. I look forward to talking to you again about this wonderful journey.

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