Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Brave Writer Podcast!!

This week I was featured on the Brave Writer Podcast and spoke with Julie about Poetry, Fanfiction, and Chronic Illness, plus the classes I'm teaching this fall and spring. Being the senior teacher on staff, I joined Brave Writer when we were teaching classes via e-mail on Yahoo Groups! Now Brave Writer has grown to thirty instructors (when I joined, there were four of us, including Julie!) and has taught 20,000 students in our online classes!

Julie has become a force in home education, and her amazing team has created a social media presence through the Brave Writer Lifestyle that allows homeschooling parents to find assistance, encouragement, and even counsel/coaching through Julie's Homeschool Alliance.

Here's the link to the Brave Writer Blog post where you may listen to the 45-minute podcast, download the show notes, and have access to all of the information, plus there's a written Brave Writer teacher interview at the end: Brave Writer Blog Podcast with Susanne Barrett. I'll copy and paste the written interview here for you (The blue links are Brave Writer affiliate links):

What kind of a writer were you in high school?
In high school, I mostly wrote poetry. I discovered the joys of reading and writing poetry due to my tenth grade English teacher, Mr. Sebastian. [He] also taught an elective class in creative writing, and there I learned to write poetry—mostly free verse heavily influenced by Dickinson—no surprise there! In fact, many of the poetry forms I teach in the Playing with Poetry Workshop I first learned in Mr. Sebastian’s class.
What is one of your favorite classroom moments?
Well, I wouldn’t say it was my favorite, but my most memorable classroom moment was when I was teaching Writing 116 (the MLA Research Essay) at PLNU, and the new English Department chairperson came in to observe my teaching. I was horribly morning-sick with our second child, and this class started at 7:30 AM. I managed to teach despite severe nausea, and my class was soooo wonderful; they knew how sick I was feeling (and why), and they kept the discussions flowing beautifully. As soon as the department chair left, I rushed out and vomited spectacularly into the trash can outside the classroom door…in full sight of and to the applause of my entire class. I was red-faced for a week…and the department chair teased me about it for years.
What inspires you?
Truly beautiful writing. Truly gorgeous landscapes. The music of the wind in the treetops. Candlelight, dip pens, bottled ink, and a blank journal page. The scent of old books and notes written in the margins by previous owners of said old books.
What would your autobiography be called?
The Bookish Theoric (a quote from Shakespeare’s Othello)
Which superpower would you like to have? What is a superpower you already have?
I would love to be able to function on two hours of sleep—then I could do so many things I enjoy doing. My family claims I already have “the editing eye”—I can spot grammar errors anywhere and everywhere.
Where would you go in a time machine?
I would meet the Brontë family in Victorian England and spend an afternoon chatting with them at their parsonage in West Yorkshire. They were so brilliant—three sister writers and a brother artist/poet, plus a wise father/pastor.
If you could be any character in fiction, who would you be?
Jane Eyre. Easiest question here. I love her quiet strength as she stands up stubbornly for what she believes in. Her thirst for learning when young, her desire to serve others, her curiosity and intelligence, her unobtrusive talents in art and teaching, and her strength of character—all of these qualities drew me to her the first time I read Jane Eyre.
What’s your favorite smell? What memory does it remind you of?
I love the rich smell of fresh plums which remind me of picking fruit from gnarled trees for my grandmother and watching her make her famous plum jelly. Aaaah, the pride in seeing jar after jar of palest-pink jelly on the pantry shelf. I also love the slightly spicy scent of Cécile Brünner climbing roses—roses that my great-grandmother grew in her little city garden.
What was your favorite toy growing up?
My stuffed Camel-with the Wrinkled-Knees from the Raggedy Ann and Andy books. He was blue with printed patches, and I promptly named him “Camelot.” He (with my help, of course) used to type extremely insulting letters on my mother’s college typewriter to my brother’s stuffed blue poodle, Pierre. I saved much of their correspondence and keep their badly-spelt letters upstairs in my heirloom box.
Cake or pie?
Cake, of course!! I adore every kind of cake except for pineapple-upside-down and German chocolate. My favorite is still yellow cake with chocolate frosting which was my brother’s and my birthday cake every year. (He was born on my third birthday.)
When you were little, what did you want to be?
I knew as early as fourth grade that I wanted to be a teacher. Before that, I wanted to be Aurora from Sleeping Beauty or a ballerina. (I did take ballet, jazz, and tap classes and fell in love with tap; I wasn’t nearly flexible enough for ballet!)
What’s something you’d like us to know about reading Shakespeare?
Always, always, always read Shakespeare out loud!! My high school Shakespeare teacher had spent her college summers traveling in a Shakespearean acting troupe up and down the Eastern seaboard, and she always “cast” the plays we were to read aloud in class, saving the best roles for herself. (And Mrs. Jordan made a mighty fine Petruchio from Taming of the Shrew, I can tell you!) And be sure to attend live Shakespeare performances of decent quality.
If live performances aren’t available or in one’s budget, then check out some great film performances from the library; I especially recommend the 2009 Hamlet with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart and the 1993 Much Ado About Nothing with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson (but please preview the latter—there are some adult-type glimpses here and there).
Shakespeare is meant to be seen and heard, not merely read from a book. However, if a Shakespeare play needs to be read, then read it aloud in a family/group or at least read along with an audio version; Librivox has free audio versions of most of Shakespeare’s plays. In addition, most libraries have excellent audio versions on CD available (Arkangel productions are usually amazing!). And HAVE FUN!! Shakespeare is meant to be enjoyed; reading his work is not a chore merely to be survived.
Hope you enjoyed all this!! 
And I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving! 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"American Soul"

This week U2 dropped another amazing single from their upcoming Songs of Experience album, and while I've loved "The Best Thing About Me" (especially hearing it live at their concert in September), I think I love "American Soul" even more.

My neighbor (we Pine Valleyans are all "neighbors" up here in a town of 1500) has been working with Jacob Needleman, author of American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders which explains a lot about the mess America is in right now.

We've lost our soul.

And my neighbor, in her eighties, also loved the music and lyrics to U2's "American Soul" because some of the same ideas from Needleman's book--and Judith's latest writings in both poetry and prose--reflect the loss of America's soul.

At the U2 concert in San Diego in September, the pre-concert "show" was a selection of poetry about America. I didn't notice it scrolling down the large screens at first...until I caught a beloved line written by Langston Hughes, one of my top five poets. Poem after poem scrolled...another by Hughes, then Carl Sandburg, Rita Dove, Robinson Jeffers, even Robert Pinsky (whom I met at February's Writer's Symposium by the Sea)...all poems about the heart and soul of America. And the whole concert was backed by the imagery of America--the Joshua Tree songs as well as the new rhythms and lyrics, familiar because of their source and the talent of U2, but new-to-us in an uncomfortable-comfortable way that gently scolded and taught and celebrated.

So U2's "American Soul" reminds us of who we've been...and who we can be again.

Here are the lyrics, courtesy of

"American Soul"

Blessed are the bullies
For one day they will have to stand up to themselves
Blessed are the liars
For the truth can be awkward

It’s not a place
This country is to be a sound
Of drum and bass
You close your eyes to look around
Look around, around
Look around, it’s a sound
Look around, look around
It’s a sound

It’s not a place
This country is to me a thought
That offers grace
For every welcome that is sought

You are rock’n’roll
You and I are rock’n’roll
You are rock’n’roll
Came here lookin’ for American Soul

It’s not a place
This is a dream the whole world owns
The pilgrim’s face
It had your heart to call her home

Hold on, brother John
Too many mothers weeping
Dream on, brother John
In your dreams you can’t be sleeping

You are rock’n’roll
You and I are rock’n’roll
You are rock’n’roll
Came here lookin’ for American Soul
American, American

Put your hands in the air
Hold up the sky
It could be too late
But we still gotta try

There’s a moment in a life
Where the soul can die
In a person, in a country
When you believe the lie
The lie, the lie, the lie

There's a promise at the heart
Of every good dream
It's a call to action
Not to fantasy

The end of the dream
The start of what's real
Let it be unity
Let it be community
For refugees like you and me
A country to receive us
Will you be my sanctuary

You are rock’n’roll
You and I are rock’n’roll
You are rock’n’roll
Came here lookin’ for American Soul

You are rock’n’roll
You and I are rock’n’roll
You are rock’n’roll
Came here lookin’ for American Soul
American Soul, American Soul

May our soul be renewed, America!! 


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Yes--Even More Book Reviews!!

This bundle of reviews is all Austen, all the time!! They vary from a modern P&P-like story to a collection of Darcy short stories to a Georgiana romance, with more P&P tales sandwiched in between. So enjoy these reviews!!

Leap of Hope: Chance at an Austen Kind of Life Leap of Hope: Chance at an Austen Kind of Life by Shannon Winslow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hope, a college student, has died...and finds herself at the Crossroads Center with the option of returning to her former life or taking on a new identity. Given her love of all things Austen, she decides to pursue a life in Regency England, a la Pride and Prejudice, and she does so, with many adventures and a lovely romance to follow!!

A delightful read although it took me quite a while to get into it...which may have been my crazy schedule not leaving me much patience for reading something different. But I really enjoyed this book once Hope became Katherine Barrett (yes, the same last name as mine--isn't that wonderful??) in a family very similar to the Bennets of Longbourn. A wonderful romance develops between Kathleen and a rather morose gentleman...with many surprises along the way!

Three Dates with Mr. Darcy: A Pride & Prejudice Variation AnthologyThree Dates with Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Anthology by Elizabeth Ann West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I had read one of these stories before, all three were memorable tales of Darcy and Elizabeth of Pride and Prejudice fame. The second story (novel-length), A Winter Wrong, I had purchased separately, but I had not before read the short story "Much to Conceal" or the novel-length By Consequence of Marriage. This last is the first of a trilogy, and I have been so engrossed in it that I think I need to obtain the other two novels in "The Moralities of Marriage" series.

Wonderful stories, and especially wonderful portraits of Darcy. A lovely collection!

The Whisky Wedding: a Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet storyThe Whisky Wedding: A Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet story by Elizabeth Ann West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful variation of Pride and Prejudice in which Elizabeth goes off in search of Lydia after Wickham and she elope. While Jane, Uncle Gardiner, and Mr. Bennet head to London, Mrs. Gardiner, the children, and Elizabeth travel to Gretna Green to see if the couple had truly eloped to Scotland.

Once in Gretna Green and with no sign of her sister or the despised Wickham, Elizabeth leaves her aunt, who is determined to return to England, and travels to the next few towns in Scotland in case Lydia and Wickham went farther to marry. While traveling, her carriage had a serious accident, resulting in the death of a child, and Elizabeth is seriously injured. Mr. Darcy finds her as he is staying a short way away at his Scottish estate, and he whisks her away, not realizing how very injured she is. And the story goes on from there.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of Darcy in this one, and Elizabeth meets him with every intention of apologizing for her horrible rejection of his proposals at Hunsford. So they are both in love with each other (Darcy more than Elizabeth, but she catches up quickly). The main problem is his family when they return to London...and her family, too, actually.

The "bad guy" who isn't truly "bad" is Lady Matlock who is trying to patch up Georgiana's debacle at Ramsgate, Lydia's botched elopement, and Darcy and Elizabeth's actual elopement. But she goes about it badly, disproving of all of the Bennets (some with good reason!) and alienating Darcy, Elizabeth, and the Colonel in the process.

I couldn't put this one down--really wonderful!!!

Believing in Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Believing in Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Renata McMann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story starts out strangely, with the death of one of the characters, accidentally but at the fault of Lady Catherine. Elizabeth saves one of the characters, to the detriment of the one who does die. Darcy steps in to assist with the final arrangements on behalf of the widow, and shortly another character also dies, placing Darcy in a strange predicament and at odds with Elizabeth.

The whole Bennet family must be shuffled off here and there, and Mrs. Bennet is of course inconsolable...especially because no one wants to stay with her and listen to her complaining day in and out. It's a very different and highly-interesting variation of Pride and Prejudice and it's quite, quite intriguing...and not predictable at all.

Particular Attachments Particular Attachments by L.L. Diamond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perhaps because I had read several of the opening chapters at Austen Variations, I had a more challenging time than usual in sinking into this novel. But once I did, I went gangbusters trying to find out what happens between Georgiana Darcy and her childhood nemesis, Nathaniel. Considering the crazy week I've just managed to survive while juggling the teaching of two Brave Writer classes and grading many essays for my business, it was a miracle that I finished this book at all.

It does help to read Particular Intentions first so that one knows Darcy and Elizabeth's story before launching into the story of Georgiana and Nathaniel as well as Lydia and her Mr. Hanson. Four years have passed since the first book in the series, and Georgiana, who has delayed her come-out to age twenty because she plans to never marry, is finally convinced to enter London society. And the annoying Nathaniel is immediately at her side. She ignores him. She teases him. He makes her angrier than anyone else on earth...and the sparks fly! But Georgiana's past seems to be catching up with her, and she must tell Nathaniel a dreadful that will ruin her in society forever.

Once I got about a quarter of the way into this book, I couldn't put it down. I even brushed my teeth with Kindle in hand, eager for the next encounter between Georgiana and the persistent Nathaniel. A delightful book in every way!!

I rarely give 5's to any book except for classics, but this novel deserves it--and then some!

* * * * *

I hope that you have enjoyed this very Austen-heavy set of book reviews. When I'm stressed, I tend to return to old favorites...or, in the case of Austen variations, new retellings of old favorites! 

Happy reading! 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Celebration of All Saints!

All Saints Byzantine Icon

Revised from the Archives...

Aaaah, one of the most joyous holy days of the year -- All Saints' Day! On this day, we celebrate all of the holy people who, for the past two thousand years, have followed Christ with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. This pilgrim pathway we walk in not an untrod road; Christians have walked this path, this Way, for two millennia and have given us encouragement, warnings, exhortation, and, most of all, the example of a beautifully Christ-led life. As Saint Paul taught the Church in Philippi, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Phil. 4:9, my emphasis). As Saint Paul exhorts the Church to follow his human example as a follower of Christ, so may we also look back through the ages to the examples of other saints, other holy people, and draw encouragement and lessons from their lives. 

The term "Saints" seem to raise the hackles of many evangelicals -- but it doesn't have to be that way. The Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and the "High Church" Anglicans seem to have the corner on the Saints of the Church, and many, if not most, of the Protestant community (especially evangelicals) misunderstand the concept and importance of Saints. Many believe, as I used to, that mistaken Christians pray *to* the Saints rather than praying to God. We'll get to that idea in a few minutes.

First of all, what is a "saint"? The Oxford Dictionary of Current English states that a saint is: 1) a holy or good person whom Christians believe will go to heaven after death. 2) a person of great goodness who is declared to be a saint by the Church after death. 3) (informal) a very good or kind person.

So, basically, if we love the Lord and have asked Him to live in our hearts, then we are saints! We see this use of "saint" often in the New Testament, especially in Saint Paul's Epistles.

Then there are the extraordinary saints, those who have lived lives of exemplary obedience to God, often to the death. The Church has designated these special people as "Saints." I find their stories extremely interesting and valuable in my own Christian life. In fact, I purchased a beautiful coffee table book called One Hundred Saints. The text is Butler's Lives of the Saints (1759), and it is gorgeously illustrated with artwork depicting each particular Saint's life. Some of my family and friends have wondered at my having such a book, but when I tell them that I purchased it at Bob Jones University, their objections are usually quelled. (Few people know that Bob Jones University has the largest collection of Christian art in the world outside of the Vatican, including room after room full of depictions of Saints and an entire room devoted to Byzantine icons, my favorites!) Although the artwork is breathtakingly beautiful, it is the text of the Saints' lives that captivate me most.

When I read about a particular Saint and their devotion (and often martyrdom) to Christ, I find that I am encouraged in dealing with my own difficulties. These Saints faced far more treacherous problems than I will likely be called upon to face, yet they demonstrate their love for Christ in remarkable ways through the strength of His Spirit. The stories of the Saints point me to Jesus, where my attention should be, and away from myself. Their examples glorify God and encourage me in loving and serving others in His Spirit.

Many believe that Catholic and Orthodox Christians "pray to the saints." In fact, some of their prayers sound very much like they are doing exactly that. But when I asked my Catholic friends about praying to the Saints, they gently corrected my misunderstanding. They replied that when Catholics "pray" to a Saint, they are asking that Saint to pray FOR them, just as we evangelicals might ask a close friend or a pastor to pray for us.

Then I asked, "Why would people in heaven pray? Aren't they in eternal bliss, not to be disturbed by sorrow, etc.? My Catholic friends replied with a Scripture reference: Revelation 5:8 which shows Saint John watching the Saints offer up their prayers to the Throne of Heaven. Well, for whom are the Saints praying? They can't be praying for people in heaven as they have no need of prayer. So the Saints must be praying for those still on earth, right? Yes, we pray to the Father and to the Son, but we also marshall our prayers by asking friends to pray for us, right? So why not ask someone (such as a Saint) to pray for us when they are right there in the Presence of our Father?

It makes sense to me, at least.

So the Saints inspire us to love God and others, and to show that love in ways that glorify Christ. If we want to, we can ask them for prayer, just as we would ask a dear friend or leader.

The Collect (a prayer to be prayed collectively, not only by a congregation but throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion) for All Saints' Day from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is as follows (and is to be prayed daily throughout the Octave (for eight days, through next Thursday):

O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And here is a more modern rendition of the Collect for All Saints from the 2011 Book of Common Prayer:

ALMIGHTY God, you have woven your disciples into one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son, Christ our Lord; Give us grace to follow your Saints in righteous and holy living, and to come to the joy beyond words which you have prepared for those who truly love you; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 

The Epistle Reading for this Holy Day can be found in seventh chapter of the Revelation to St. John, starting in the second verse. (Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17) 

The Gospel Reading for All Saints' Day is written in the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, starting in the first verse. (Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes).

All Souls' Day (November 2)

I hope to attend the All Souls' Day service on Thursday with Father Gregory of Blessed Trinity Anglican and the folks at Pepperwood Park. If I am not able to do so, at least this morning in our homeschool devotional time Benjamin and I will pray the Collect and read the Epistle and Gospel readings for this Holy Day. We will also discuss the Saints and what a blessing we can all be in helping and encouraging each other in this Christian life as well as looking back through the ages to find other wise and holy people who can also encourage us through their examples and, sometimes, through their own writings. We are so blessed to be able to share this pilgrim pathway with other believers, both in the present and from the past. What a beautiful gift from God to His saints!

As I read in Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest

"There is no such thing as a private life -- 'a world within a world' -- for a man or woman who is brought into fellowship with Jesus Christ's sufferings. God breaks up the private life of His saints, and makes it a thoroughfare for the world on the one hand and for Himself on the other." ("Ye Are Not Your Own," November 1)

And as I also read in The Crozier Connection, the newsletter of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Mid-America Diocese of the Anglican Communion of North America for November of this year a letter from our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Dr. Ray R. Sutton: 

"Hebrews 12:1 specifically says, 'Seeing we also are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.' Clouds are obviously in the sky. Yet these are clouds in another world. They are heavenly clouds. These clouds are filled with 'witnesses,' those who have died in Christ. They are there, but they are not dead. They are alive through faith in the Resurrected, Living Jesus Christ. And significantly, we are surrounded by them, which means somehow we who believe in Christ in the present, are with them; and they are with us.... We are together in the present in a mysterious way. As such they of old are our contemporaries."

For Christians, all of our lives entwine around each others'. No one is separate; no one is alone. And today, All Saints' Day, is one day in which we can formally and joyfully celebrate our union as brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages. 

And, as the daily Saint-of-the-Day e-mail from reminds us, this Solemnity doesn't just mark those Saints who have gone through the long process of being proclaimed "Saint" by the Roman Catholic Church; rather, "Today’s feast honors the obscure as well as the famous—the saints each of us have known." Amen and Amen!

A blessed All Saints' Day to you!

Soli Deo Gloria,


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