Ally's #3: "Baby Wise" by Gary Ezzo & Robert Bucknam

BabyWise I've heard the spectrum of opinions on this book and decided to check it out for myself after meeting the super happy baby of friends who adhere (for the most part) to the advice provided in this book. As a woman who values structure with a reasonable level of flexibility, the first six chapters made a lot of sense to me and had me feeling more at ease as to what kind of routine we may be able to get into as our baby transitions through the various sleeping/feeding stages of the first 12 months.

All that to say, this book is not perfect, nor will I treat it like the end-all be-all of how I care for our daughter. Here are a few of the downsides: some of the material is very repetitive, the author occasionally has a condescending tone towards his audience, at times I felt like I was reading an infomercial that was supposed to convince me that all other methods were hogwash, and the author interjected advice in various places that felt inappropriate. For example, here is what the author warns regarding breast-feeding consultants:

"If you are receiving more parenting philosophy from the consultant than breastfeeding mechanics, or if you are told to feed your baby every hour, carry him in a sling, or any other extreme-sounding advice, consider looking elsewhere for help. If you come across a consultant offering advice such as the above, share her name with other moms as a warning, especially Baby Wise moms. Let them know what you discovered. Equally, when you find a consultant that is sympathetic and helpful, share her name with your friends."

Hmmmmm...  Let's just say I skimmed over certain areas where the author got up on his high horse and poo-pooed everyone else that didn't think as intelligently as he did. In spite of taking a fair amount of the book with a grain of salt, I did feel like it offered a very logical, enticing, and healthy way to maximize the sleeping/feeding/wake times of one's child. Not only will Abigail be the healthier for it, but the rest of our family will also be able to enjoy a good night's rest. The book claims that parents who use the Baby Wise  method will have infants sleeping through the night between 7- and 10-weeks of age. I wonder if they'll give me my money back if Abby turns out to be a night owl...

Ally's #2: "The Meaning of Marriage" by Tim & Kathy Keller

As Jim and I are off to marriage retreat this weekend, I read this in preparation for our time together. I have to say that this is one of the better--if not the best--books on marriage that I've read in a while.

Keller begins by giving a brief overview of the history of marriage and how our society has morphed into a view of marriage called "pessimistic idealism." This particular view point holds high and lofty expectations for a future "soul mate" on a variety of levels, while holding fast to the idea that there is nothing and should be nothing that we are asked to change about ourselves in a relationship. Keller says this is because we have a flawed understanding of the purpose of marriage itself and that we never marry the right person. Because marriage has the power to transform us like no other human relationship, our spouse can and should be different than the one we walked down the aisle with after months, years, and decades of being together and pushing one another towards Christ-likeness.

Keller then moves on to discuss the power for marriage and the essence of marriage. Rather than give my own summary here, I'll let the book speak for itself...

On the power of marriage: "The gospel, brought home to your heart by the Spirit, can make you happy enough to be humble [as opposed to self-centered], giving you an internal fullness that frees you to be generous with the other even when you are not getting the satisfaction you want out of the relationship. Without the help of the Spirit, without the continual refilling of your soul's tank with the glory and love of the Lord, such submission to the interests of the other is virtually impossible to accomplish for any length of time without becoming resentful."

On the essence of marriage: "In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love seem to dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of a marriage is that is is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must be tender, understanding, forgiving, and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love."

The next chapter cover the mission of marriage and how our identity in Christ is able to unite us more foundationally than any other aspect of who we are. Our mission is to seek the best for the one we call our best friend; we are to maintain an ongoing commitment to our spouse's holiness.

In the next chapter, we learn that part of pursuing holiness as a couple is understanding that marriage reveals our weaknesses and sinful tendencies. Rather than losing hope and search for "someone better" when the flaws in our spouse are uncovered, we have to realize that the future, sanctified version of our current spouse is the "someone better" that God has intended for us. Keller argues that learning to give our spouse love in the way that he/she finds most emotionally valuable and powerful is the only way to bring remaking and healing power of love into our spouse's life.

The final three chapters of the book deal with having a balanced view of singleness and marriage, sex, and the hot-button topic of gender roles. The latter chapter is written by Tim's wife, Kathy, and offers a look at the Trinity that allows for a clearer understanding of what authority, headship, and submission mean. I skipped the chapter on singleness for the sake of time, and found that the chapter on sex did not say anything particularly enlightening or different from what I have heard before in sermons or other books.

While the book's power fizzled a little for me in the final chapters, the eye-opening, question-stirring impact of the first 75% of the book made it a totally worthy read.

Ally's #1: "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens

I'm having trouble letting go of Christmas this year since I felt like it came and went too quickly. So, I opted to read this story and to see how it differed from the two movies I've seen (Scrooged and A Muppet Christmas Carol) based on Charles Dickens tale from the 1800s.

Hollywood, dancing puppets, and Bill Murray definitely give the story a different feeling, and while I enjoy watching these films, I prefer the original. I think the darkness of Ebenezer Scrooges heart appears darker when described in words; similarly, the softening of his heart during his visits with the three Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future seems all the more tender when you're not thinking about how cute Kermit the Frog is.

I like how the author progresses through the visitation of the Spirits and their impact on Scrooge. First, Scrooge sees that loneliness and isolation began in his childhood, and that being lifted out of poverty as a young adult quickly trumped all other aspects of life that were once precious, especially relationships. Second, Scrooge is given a glimpse of what he is missing out on by being such a humbug this Christmas. He also is made aware of the various impressions those who know him have about his lifestyle and sour personality. In this visitation, I especially liked how the Spirit turned Scrooges own venomous words on him and how painful it sounded to his ears once he began to feel compassion towards those he had formerly looked down on. Lastly, the Spirit of Christmas Future walks Scrooge through a number of scenes that speak so profoundly for themselves that the Spirit doesn't need to utter a word for Scrooge to be totally rocked to the core.

I loved that this book was a good reminder of how the Holy Spirit can change us both dramatically and incrementally. By the end of the story, Scrooge is completely transformed and every aspect of his life is altered as a result. While he can't undo the wrong of his entire life, he awakes Christmas morning with the determination and overwhelming joy to correct all that is within his power in the present. To awaken with determination...that is what I aspire to.

Ally's Faves of 2012

I didn't quite make it to 52 this year, but darn it, I got closer than I thought I would! In 2012, I learned that I love to read before bed and prefer to pick up a book instead of turning on the TV when I need a break from house work. However, I've also learned that reading a good book can be incredibly addicting, and it's harder for me to walk away from a book than a re-run on TV, so I have to pick my poison wisely. There are seven books that stand out to me as my faves of 2012. Here they are, in no particular order...

  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte This is one of my favorite reads of all time, and will probably be re-read every year from here on out.
  2. Absolutely American by David Lipsky I don't know that any other book would help me to better understand my husband's university experience than this one. Lately, I find my affection for the Army growing and my interest in long-standing traditions expanding. This book has motivated me to select more titles on military history in 2013.
  3. Foreign to Familiar by Sarah Lanier I find it sad that I found this book after traveling extensively in countries where this information would have been very useful. It will be one that I carry on the plane with me when traveling abroad from now on.
  4. How to Read the Bible #1 & 2 by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart These two books have significantly impacted the way I read and understand my Bible. Since I am facilitating two overlapping chronological studies, these resources have helped prepare me for the task and have been equally helpful for my students.
  5. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle I enjoyed the entire L'Engle series, but the time travel in this particular book was fun and intriguing. Though I may be tempted to read through this series again next year, I'm going to try to aim for something new.
  6. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen As the only female blogger on this site, my reading list tends to include more "chick" books. Not all of Austen's writing thrills me, but this one has more endearing themes than the others I've read. I'm curious to see if there's a good film version of Mansfield Park.
  7. The Family of Adoption by Joyce Maguire Pavao Jim and I are not sure if/how/when we will pursue adoption again, but I would still recommend this book to anyone who is considering adoption, especially one that allows for sustained contact and/or communication with the birth family.


In 2013, I hope to read more by the Bronte sisters, R.C. Sproul, Tim Kellar, C.S. Lewis, and Bonhoeffer. Since I'm a fan of trilogies and the like, I also have The Lord of the Rings series on my to-do list. Topically speaking, I'd like to include books on American history, Army history, the Czech Republic, and missionary biographies. The trick for 2013 will be figuring out how to appropriately balance my reading goals with motherhood and other priorities.


Ally's #49: "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum

Since I live a stone's throw from the Wizard of Oz museum, I thought I'd give the original book a read. As much as I love the movie, I prefer the book for a few reasons.

First of all, I think the book is much more kid friendly, since you don't have the potentially frightening visuals of the wicked witch and the flying monkeys. Secondly, the book is less exaggerated. The antagonists (the Wicked Witch of the West, the Wizard of Oz) are more easily defeated and Dorothy's companions (Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion) are not as hopelessly fragile as they are portrayed in the movie. Thirdly, you are able to follow Dorothy and her entourage on more adventures as they journey to the Emerald City. For example, the Wicked Witch of the West does not call upon her troupe of flying monkeys to attack until she first sends a pack of 40 wolves to rip them to pieces, 40 crows to peck their eyes out, a swarm of black bees to sting them to death, and a dozen of her slaves armed with spears to destroy them (all efforts are unsuccessful).

I enjoyed seeing Dorothy and her friends bond and protect one another. It was also fun picking up on the author's hints that the brains, heart, and courage that were supposedly lacking were,in fact, there all along. It was evident in the Scarecrow's clever suggestions in the midst of challenging predicaments, the Tin Man's tenderness towards any living creature that was not attempting to harm them, and the Lion's willingness to repeatedly put himself in harms way.

After journeying to every corner of the Land of Oz seeking a way home, Dorothy finally learns that her silver shoes (not ruby slippers, like the film) could have taken her back to Kansas the moment she arrived in Oz. As desperate as she was to get back to her family, it was cool to see Dorothy grateful for her experience, as it was very profitable for her friends and for all the inhabitants of Oz. Dorothy disrupted that land in the best ways possible.

Ally's #48: "Agnes Grey" by Anne Bronte

Well, it appears all three Bronte sisters are gifted writers. After finishing up Jane Eyre, I decided to give the more brief Agnes Grey a shot. I was not disappointed.

At first, I was afraid that Anne would only provide her readers a poor regurgitation of her sister's stories. The main character, Agnes, comes from a poor, but genuinely happy family. As a young woman, she ventures out to serve as a governess in the homes of two different, very indulgent families. This is where the similarities diverge.

Agnes' first year as a governess reminded me in some ways of my first year of teaching. I felt her pain as she struggled to control her pupils with her hands tied behind her back, so to speak. Her employers blame her for all of their children's shortcomings, but do not allow Agnes to elevate herself to a position of power over them, forbidding her to discipline, strike, or criticize their children in any form. Agnes is eventually asked to leave after a year of work because the children seem to exhibit worse behavior than before she arrived. It was not for lack of effort on Agnes' part, but the continual undermining of her authority by her employers.

Agnes' second job was better, to some degree, but she is still treated like a nothing and a nobody. What a challenge it is to make any impression on the young minds in your charge when they are taught by undeniable example that you are not deserving of respect. After a few years of service, her burden lightens with the departure of the young men of the home to university. Agnes also had some healing balm applied to the wounds of her loneliness. A new clergyman, Mr. Weston, comes to their town who handles the Word of God rightly and engagingly. He is also incredibly genuine and kind, and develops a rapport with all of the poor and lowly in the area.

To put it simply, Agnes' heart skips a beat upon every meeting, every conversation, and every thought that drifts to Mr. Weston. She prays fervently that God would grant her the pleasure of one day being Mrs. Weston, but never stoops to unabashedly flirt with him in the way oldest and most beautiful young lady she cared for did. Rosalie Murray is perhaps the vilest female character I've ever encountered. She delights in controlling men and their emotions by feigning to entertain some feelings toward them. She loves a conquest and tries to fit in as many heart-wrenching triumphs as possible before her marriage to a wealthy man in good standing, whom she detests. Agnes describes Miss Murray best in her diary account:

Had I seen it depicted in a novel, I should have thought it unnatural; had I heard it described by others, I should have deemed it a mistake or an exaggeration; but when I saw it with my own eyes, and suffered from it, too, I could only conclude that excessive vanity, like drunkenness, hardens the heart, enslaves the faculties, and perverts the feelings; and that dogs are not the only creatures which, when gorged to the throat, will yet gloat over what they cannot devour, and grudge the smallest morsel to a starving brother.

The story has a happy ending and the conclusion is succinct. I would recommend this read for any teacher, mentor, or parent who wants to be encouraged that the children in their care are not as horrid as the ones Agnes had to deal with.