My ideas of home and homemaking used to be small. In years past, I associated such words with a comfortable house in suburban America, complete with a husband and a few children. My current self, living in a house shared with three other women in the middle of a big city, would have likely looked like an alien being to my 18-year-old self. While I’ve certainly grieved that some aspects of that youthful dream of home have not yet come to pass, at the same time, I understand more clearly now that making a home is more. I’ve seen that a home is made by loving well and pouring out. Homemaking is the opening of hands and committing to what the Lord gives in each season. It’s cultivating joyful, loving community wherever you are by bringing others in.

Unsurprisingly, stories have deepened my vision of home and taught me much about what it looks like. I hope to take a few posts to reflect on a few such stories. First up is Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry, which, for all its quiet prose and gentle introspection, truly axed me (as a friend and I once said of Wendell Berry).

I read Hannah Coulter in the spring of 2021, just over a year into COVID-19, which forced many questions of embodied community, loss, and home into sharper focus. I live in Washington, D.C., a city known for transience, politicians on the move, and basement apartments. I’ve said many tearful goodbyes in my years here and wondered if this city truly allows one to build a lasting home. In short, Hannah Coulter convinced me that it’s possible, even here.

That may sound odd, since D.C. is fairly opposite of everything Wendell Berry vocally advocates for – rootedness, enduring community, and commitment to a particular bit of earth. But Hannah Coulter moved me deeply because its characters’ fight for those things amidst shadows of grief and impermanence. The setting of Port William, Kentucky, a fictional stand-in for Berry’s own hometown, certainly sees less turnover than D.C., but even this little agrarian town, emblematic of longevity, can’t resist the march of time or the sting of loss.

Hannah of the title narrates the book as an elderly woman reflecting back on her life, now almost a complete tapestry of interconnected joyful and sorrowful threads. Her marriage to Nathan Coulter and the home she has built with him are things of beauty and endurance, but they have grown out of loss. Decades before, World War II took Hannah’s first husband, Nathan’s brother, and years of Nathan’s own youth. “He saw a lot of places, and he came home,” Hannah muses of Nathan, “I think he gave up the idea that there is a better place somewhere else.” So, they look right in front of them for their “place” and resurrect an abandoned homestead, making their own. Out of another’s loss, they make and commit to a home to love and cultivate and share.

Feelings of unmooring and uncertainty loomed large when I first read Hannah Coulter, and they still sometimes do – D.C. culture does not naturally encourage commitment to anything, and more people than usual left the city between 2020 and 2021. But in that season when uncertainty felt so much sharper, reading about Hannah and Nathan’s intentionality in loving each other, their land, their people, and their house grounded and challenged me. They still remind me that rootedness is often found in pouring oneself out for the place and people right in front of you. I don’t have a plot of land to work and keep, but I do have a house and backyard that I can make beautiful, both by caring for it and by welcoming in others with their joys, memories, and pains. D.C. may be a far cry from Port William’s tight-knit farming community, but I do have a church in the middle of the city that not only encourages, but expects and requires commitment. Deep love amongst members has manifestly followed. I expect to keep saying goodbyes for as long as I stay in D.C., but I can still intentionally love the people around me for as long as we’re all here, even though the leavings hurt.

Hannah Coulter showed me that homemaking is pouring out those very gifts of place and presence. It showed me a tangible example of how loving a place and its people go hand in hand. And that pouring out is perhaps especially important in a place like D.C., where things like deep community and commitment are so much scarcer. Hannah reflects, “There is no ‘better place’ than this, not in this world. And it is by the place we’ve got, and our love for it and keeping of it, that this world is joined to Heaven.” Her story has certainly strengthened me to “love and keep” the place and home I’ve got, city or otherwise.

Hello, friends! I’ve mentioned loosely here and there about my recent experimentation with writing poetry. Reading it has proved so valuable to me over the last two years that I’ve been compelled to try it for myself. Below are my latest attempts, wrought from miscellaneous prompts and desire to capture moments of beauty from life. I hope you enjoy them in all their amateurish eagerness.

“Sunrise in Maine”

Sheltered in a rock face,
Braced against the clifftop wind,
Looking east to promised warmth,
I’m watching, waiting.

Above, a velvet blue canopy,
Flecked in a thousand diamond lights,
Bids frosty welcome to those below.
They’ve traveled far to wait and watch.

Hemmed in by loyal company,
I hold my breath as dark recedes,
And ruby gold outshines night’s crown.
In wordless awe, we stand and watch.

Blazing autumn paints the mountains,
The sea awakens in shimmering dawn.
Watching souls sit soaked in glory,
Enthralled by new mercies
Numerous as the hues of morning.


“Transfixed”

Cabin lights dimmed,
Air sucked dry,
Time suspends
With the wings’ slow dip.

Rolling sore joints,
I peer at the glass,
Smallest of portals
To new country below.

Sloping emerald
Arrests my gaze –  
Stories abound,
Both written and waiting.

Dawn’s blue mist
Recedes in welcome
As England’s wild hills
Transfix me quite.

Gliding still lower,
My spirits rise,
Thrilled with hope
Of the tales I’ll find.


“Sacred Wednesdays”

It’s usually the same
When Wednesdays come around.
We’re taught the sacred Word,
We eat and hug and laugh.
And all the while I sit and marvel
At the gift of so much good.
The same good and sacred
Gifts keep giving
When Wednesdays come around.

“Forget”

I often forget the small things,
Like my charger or umbrella,
But, blessing or curse, I never forget
The bigger ones.

Where I met you, whether
You welcomed or shunned,
Throwaway words, if you
Remember my likes,
Your humor and quirks,
My own deep secrets –
For better or worse,
I won’t forget.

“Taste”

Savory soup and tranquil tea,
A fragrant candle or opening bloom,
Stirring tales and tantalizing song,
Ever beckon, softly call:
Taste and see.

 

Image via Masterpiece PBS on Facebook

“Home” conjures up varied images and phrases. “Home is where the heart is” may now ring with trite familiarity for many. Dorothy Gale ensured that generations would grow up knowing “there’s no place like home.” Philosophers, authors, and filmmakers alike keep returning to it, tapping into a yearning for “home” that I think is innate in everyone.

The new TV adaptation of James Herriot’s delightful veterinary adventures, All Creatures Great and Small, has captured the age-old narrative of search for home with fresh vibrancy and charm. Inundated as we are with information and noise, the many shots of northern England’s rolling hills perhaps speak to our modern souls’ longing not only for escape, but for a lost era of greater simplicity and quiet. Many young viewers also likely feel affinity for James Herriot himself, a fresh graduate of veterinary school, eager to find his place in the world and prove himself.

James’s desires for belonging and stability run like a bubbling current beneath each episode. He initially leaves for Yorkshire simply hoping for steady work, but in the months following, finds himself wrestling with where his true future lies. In clever narrative irony, his bustling hometown of Glasgow represents familiarity and security, while far-flung, unsophisticated Yorkshire brings new possibilities he didn’t know to look for.

Possibilities like… giving life-saving treatment to a struggling widow’s cattle herd twice in the same year, and thereby rescuing her and her children’s livelihood. Offering hope to a farmer whose livelihood rests on the recovery of his only cow or only herd of sheep.

On a deeper level, James finds an unexpected family at Skeldale House, which serves as both the veterinary office and an inviting place to live. Mrs. Hall runs it with steady, no-nonsense care and efficiency. Amazingly, she still manages to let eccentric head veterinarian, Siegfried Farnon, imagine that he’s the one directing everything. Siegfried’s lovable and roguish younger brother, Tristan, brings needed humor and easy friendship to James’s life. And perhaps most tender of all, James falls in love with local beauty, Helen Alderson, capable and gentle and whip-smart, almost as soon as he arrives in Darrowby. She challenges and encourages James with an honesty he’s never before encountered and, as for so many others in the Dales, farming runs in her blood.

In tending the farm animals of the Dales and settling into Skeldale House, James forges trust with this community, generative farming folk who, while perhaps a bit stuck in their ways, demonstrate unwavering devotion to their home, for home it is. The land isn’t simply a means of provision, but an identity and a way of life. The farmers don’t simply work the land, but know it deeply.

Similarly, Siegfried and Tristan and Mrs. Hall don’t merely live in Darrowby, but know its every quirk and tradition and occupant. The people depend on them and they repay it in kind by offering their home as a place of care for the community’s animals, as well as of refuge and rest for the people when needed. Every Christmas, it transforms into a haven of festivity and companionship. Many in Darrowby find a friend in both their joys and sorrows at the hearth of Skeldale House. In short, the people of the Dales take the time to really know one another.

I think that’s what James finds in Yorkshire when he didn’t even realize he was looking for it. I think it’s what so many of us want in a home. A space to know and be known. A Mrs. Hall to notice when we just need a chat and a cup of tea. A Tristan to make us laugh or a Helen to challenge us to higher things. A community to truly know and serve well with our work and resources. And to the delight of many eager Anglophiles and romantics like myself, James does eventually recognize that these are the things that make a home. Glasgow may offer comfort in the traditional sense, but Yorkshire’s unruly farmlands and quirky people have brought him in and shown him family in a far deeper way.

A few weeks ago, I sat in rapt pleasure as I watched the closing episodes of the recent second series of All Creatures, in which James finally realizes that he’s found a true and lasting home in the Yorkshire Dales. His heart now swells with knowing affection when he casts awe-inspired eyes over the undulating emerald hills of the Dales. The farmers and laborers of Darrowby have worked their way into his heart with their stubborn traditions and bone-deep affection for the wild, unpredictable land. Skeldale House has become not only a place of employment, but a sanctuary of warmth, peace, and companionship. In the episode’s final moments, not even the foreboding buzz of war planes overhead can dampen the spirit of celebration and comradeship inside Skeldale House. Whatever joy or sorrow may be ahead, James has come home.

I wrote recently about my favorite books read in the last year and noted that I was pleasantly surprised that the list included several poetry volumes. Ever since Wendell Berry’s poetry came to my aid at a crucial point in 2020, I’ve made an effort to include more poetry in my regular reading. I’m by no means an expert in poetry by now, but I’ve found it steadying, soothing, and able to get me thinking about big and beautiful ideas in different way than prose does. So, here are a few of my favorite poems from my recent reading. I hope they help you stop and think and marvel. Click the titles to either read them, or in one case, to buy the volume :)

“Heaven in Ordinary” by Malcolm Guite

I read this one in Guite’s volume titled “After Prayer,” in which he composed a series of poems that respond to George Herbert’s famous poem “Prayer.” This one reminded me of the magnitude of how Jesus has hallowed the lives of his followers, even in the seemingly ordinary moments.

“Foretaste and Tell” by Carolyn Weber

Carolyn Weber is my favorite memoir writer, and her honest and vivid style there bring her poetry to life just as beautifully. This one paints a gorgeous picture of the little tastes of heaven we get here on earth, whetting the appetite for the day that all will be actually perfected.

“Mary's Song” by Luci Shaw

I have my friend Mary Giudice of Take This Poem (on which I got to be a recent guest!!) to thank for introducing me to this one and thusly to Luci Shaw overall. If you want to ponder just how wild and marvelous the incarnation of Christ is, this poem might be a good place to start. Shaw shows how huge and incomprehensible it really is by wrestling it into words that somehow only show just how insufficient words are to describe it.

“In Memoriam [Ring out, wild bells]” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

This one struck a sweet chord with me when I read it on New Year’s Day. It epitomizes how humans long for renewal and restoration and how a new year can often make us aware of that searching. In these tense times, it’s also a poignant reminder that there’s nothing new under the sun.

This is the poetry corner in my house. What should I be adding to it this year??


Happy 2022, friends and readers! Taking time each year to reflect on my reading of the previous year and anticipate another year of reading ahead has become a favorite annual habit of mine. The world remains in a strange state, and my reading life continues to show me evidence of that. I read a lot in 2021 and even found whole new groups of friends who came together specifically to read (I see you, dear Membership!). But, in smaller ways, I can see how I’m still working my way back from the upheaval that 2020 brought on my reading life, not unlike the rest of the world!

I was surprised when I realized almost all of my favorites this year were nonfiction. But then I was less surprised when I noticed that I re-read almost entirely fiction, and most of them old favorites at that. I purposely gave myself a lot of space for re-reading this past year, and I’m so thankful I did! The bracing magic and comfort of Narnia, Hogwarts, Austen, and Tolkien did wonders for me in 2021, even while the many new books I read stretched and challenged and delighted me like only books can.

Another fascinating anecdote for me to notice was that among those new books were the number of poetry volumes. More poetry than I’ve ever read, in fact! I partly credit Wendell Berry’s poetry with saving my sanity in 2020, and since then, it’s spurred me on read more. I’m now glad to count several volumes of poetry among my favorites of the past year and look forward to stretching this newer love even more. I hope you’re also inspired to pick up something new from my lists, and I’d love to hear what you think I should read in 2022!

Total Books Read (new to me): 37!

Books Re-read: 11 –

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 by Winston Graham

Format Stats:

I was fascinated when I looked back my format choices this year. I listened to the audiobook for only five books out of my 37 new reads (about 13%), and I read exactly one on my Kindle, and that was only because it was an advance copy and not available in any other format! In years past, audiobooks have typically upped my totals by between 20 and 30 percent. But then I realized that if I included my re-reads in my total this year, this still might technically be the case, as I listened to quite a few of them. My Kindle, however, clearly continues to get the short end of the stick. I think I must still be recovering from so many dreaded Zoom calls.

Other Fun Stats:

Male-authored books: 16

Female-authored books: 20

(Note: this breakdown accounts for one book being a compilation of short, devotional essays authored by many men and women, so I didn’t include it in this stat)

Most-read author: Wendell Berry (4 books)

Shortest book: Understanding Baptism, 80 pages

Longest book: The Distant Hours, 562 pages

Favorites of 2021

Courage, Dear Heart by Rebecca K. Reynolds: This was my first read of 2021, and what a timely one it was. Rebecca Reynolds has become one of my favorite writers for The Rabbit Room, and this book contained all I now expect of her: compassion, honesty, love for the whimsical and power of story, and determination to help her readers see good in the world. Her vulnerable wrestling with God’s goodness amidst the world’s brokenness within these pages certainly helped me see some such good. If your soul feels weary, this might be the book for you.

This Beautiful Truth by Sarah Clarkson: I’m indebted to Sarah Clarkson’s writing for drawing my eyes up to the good and beautiful and for somehow speaking directly to my heart’s longings and struggles. In this part memoir and part theological study, she shares candidly about her long struggle with mental illness to show her readers how God is remaking a fallen world. Her skill with words has helped me put language to what I’ve believed about beauty and stories my whole life. A lovely musical note, a heart-wrenching story, or a mightily beautiful landscape have always had the power to steal my breath and give me what she calls “knowings” – a bone-deep certainty that good and beauty ultimately overcome evil and that something greater transcends our hurts and fears.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry: After soaking in Berry’s poetry for so much of 2020, I approached his fiction with some carefulness, probably because I knew it would be as profound and wise as it did prove to be. His rich weaving of place and powerful yet quiet prose invited me to see place and the present as tools for glimpsing and preparing for eternity. Hannah Coulter left me with questions like, “How can I use my everyday spaces to point people towards what's beautiful and sacred? How can I intentionally tether my rhythms to the good and lasting?” Not many writers pull together the simple and profound so well as Wendell Berry, and I’m grateful for how this skill of his challenges my everyday human choices.

The God of the Garden by Andrew Peterson: Here’s a good rule of thumb: read everything Andrew Peterson writes! Or listen to it since he also writes songs! His love for Jesus offers a truly humbling example in this book as he shares his story and many spiritual reflections on trees. Each page pulses with his desire for his readers to be spurred on by Christ’s love to love their people and their places well, arguing that as one flourishes, so does the other. He presents a compelling case for how people were given the earth to cultivate and how the beauty we make in it now heralds the future remaking of the whole earth and its people. With each tree sketched, poem shared, and personal anecdote recounted, whether wryly funny or deeply personal, Andrew draws readers’ eyes towards the coming Kingdom saying, “It’s near! Look at all these seeds of it already here! Cultivate them and look for the buds with hope!” I’m certainly looking more closely because of this book. 

After Prayer by Malcolm Guite: Malcolm Guite wins the title of my poetry guide for 2021, and a worthy guide he’s been. He wrote this volume largely in response to and in reflection on George Herbert’s poem, “Prayer.” His verses invite readers to seek their own communion with God through prayer and to notice how faith in Christ gives eternal significance to an everyday life lived in faithfulness.

Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation by Luci Shaw: I picked this up on a whim during my long-awaited visit to Goldberry Books (again, I see you, dear Membership!) just before Christmas and it then ended up landing as my final completed book of 2021. And what a book to end the year on. I’ve rarely encountered a writer as skilled at wrestling huge, divine, incomprehensible ideas into actual words as Luci Shaw. This little volume of poems stole my breath for fresh wonder at the incarnation and the weight of Christ’s sacrifice. I can’t recommend it enough.

Honorable Mentions:

Home Going: Poetry for a Season by Carolyn Weber: Carolyn Weber wrote some of my all-time favorite memoirs, so I was quick on the draw when I heard she’d also written poetry. This may be a slim little book, but its verses paint grand and gorgeous word pictures about faith, life, death, creation, family, and redemption.

Remembering by Wendell Berry: More rich reflections from Berry in this little novel on place, home, and rootedness. I particularly appreciated his focus in this one on trust, and how a full life often hinges on moving forward in trust. And spoiler alert: the final few pages make me weep.

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien: If you’ve not yet made this part of your regular Christmas reading, please change that in 2022! For many years, Tolkien wrote detailed letters with illustrations to his children styled as letters from Father Christmas. They are magical, funny, and so thoroughly and delightfully Tolkien.

Shadows of Swanford Abbey by Julie Klassen: Julie Klassen’s novels have offered a reliable and romantic escape for me for years now, and this one became a new favorite. An old Gothic abbey-turned-hotel in the English countryside proved an ideal setting for a murder mystery. A wholesome romance and redemptive themes for many of her richly drawn characters made lovely cherries on top. I’m already looking forward to her next one.


Happy reading, friends! I’d love to know if any of these caught your eye or what recommendations you might have for me for 2022!

2021 Book List (new-to-me books, listed in the order completed):

Courage, Dear Heart by Rebecca K. Reynolds

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Reality Hunger by David Shields

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Mother to Son by Jasmine Holmes

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

Georgana’s Secret by Arlem Hawks

The Word in the Wilderness by Malcolm Guite

The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

This Beautiful Truth by Sarah Clarkson

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

Remembering by Wendell Berry

What Does it Mean to Fear the Lord? by Michael Reeves

The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry

After Prayer by Malcolm Guite

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Understanding Baptism by Bobby Jamieson

A World Lost by Wendell Berry

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Suffering is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot

Heart in the Highlands by Heidi Kimball

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

The God of the Garden by Andrew Peterson

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

The London House by Katherine Reay

Rescue Plan by Deepak Reju and Jonathan D. Holmes

Dorothy and Jack by Gina Dalfonzo

Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

Shadows of Swanford Abbey by Julie Klassen

Home Going: Poetry for a Season by Carolyn Weber

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Weary World Rejoices, edited by Melissa Kruger

Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation by Luci Shaw