Friday, March 30, 2007

Passing Days and Paper Routes

I have a date tonight. YES, it's with a boy. Stop snorting. You can put your eyebrow back down, too. And, er, yes, my mother's coming along. Not to chaperone--he asked her, too.

The boy in question is in fact my eleven-year-old brother Jonathan. He's taking us to Canada's watering hole (coffeeing hole?), Tim Horton's, for a treat because we help him with his paper route.

We actually help a lot of people with their paper routes. At the moment I believe we have six Pennysaver routes to our family name, which makes for a whole lot of stacking and rolling and stuffing and carrying. Our living room turns into a paper processing factory every Thursday as the route owners prepare to ready, set, deliver. A few of us, including Mom and I, help out with delivery on Friday because it's good exercise and it's nice to pull together.

In the past, my family of fourteen did everything together. Now that we older ones are getting older, that doesn't happen quite so much. We have a lot of different interests and goals we're pursuing, besides relationships and commitments and what not else. So it's a peculiar joy, every Friday, to look at the people walking down both sides of the street and know that they're mine. All of them, from the tall ones striding along like they own the world to the little one struggling to keep up; from my mother, who looks amazing at fifty, to my brother Jim who astounds me at almost-fifteen.

When we got home today, three of the little girls were holding hands and dancing around the purple amaryllis that's blooming in the front yard. Just before we reached them, they let go and fell around each other in the grass. Then Tabithah, who's almost four and not-a-baby, jumped up and came running for me, heavy winter boots clomping beneath her short-sleeved purple dress, arms open wide. She grabbed me around the knees and hugged tight.

Life keeps changing as the days go by. Babies turn into four-year-old in winter boots, "middle kids" become strapping young men, eleven-year-old brothers take mothers and sisters out for donuts and coffee. As much as my busy schedule and sprouting writing career dictate that I spend a lot of time apart, I'm trying to keep my heart at home. To pay attention. To "catch the moments as they run."

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In case you didn't know, the book my cousin and I wrote on big family life is due for release next year.

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I'm not alone!

Sam Torode of Boundless loves words, too! As it happens, I love his words (and his wife's). Intelligent, articulate, and, in this case, all about Winnie-the-Pooh. Go read it.

The lovely ladies of the YLCF also like words. The proof is in the bookshelves.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's All About the Words

Taking a quick break from work...

I work with words for seven or eight hours every day. I read them, I write them, I correct them. They never cease to amaze me. The fact that we can string 26 letters together and communicate worlds with them, across centuries and cultural boundary lines, that we can form new ideas and challenge old ones, put fears to rest and create upheaval... words are amazing.

I write to create beauty. I realized this the other day. For me writing is not just about communication. It's an art form. That's why I get a thrill out of poetry, or a piece of description that's just perfect. I love a sentence with rhythm; a paragraph with style. I love a line of dialogue that sounds in my head. I love the way beauty itself communicates: with more power and truth than can be in words alone.

I love it when words force me to stop my day for a moment just to absorb them.

I love the vocabulary of Scripture. I like to pull its word out and run them through my head: grace, thanksgiving, great love; awesome, holy, LORD of Hosts. "I call to remembrance my song in the night" (Psalm 77:6).

What are words to you?

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Monday, March 26, 2007


We like March, his shoes are purple,
He is new and high;
Makes he mud for dog and peddler,
Makes he forest dry;
Knows the adder's tongue his coming,
And begets her spot.
Stands the sun so close and mighty
That our minds are hot.
News is he of all the others;
Bold it were to die
With the blue-birds buccaneering
On his British sky.

I bought a book I didn't know I'd enjoy. I'm so glad I did. Everyone should read Emily Dickinson.

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Friday, March 23, 2007


You can't even enter this short story contest unless you can send in five rejection slips along with your submission.

How funny is that?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Letters to a Samuel Generation is finished!

Letters to a Samuel Generation: The Collection is available! It's a beautiful hardbound book (blue cloth), weighing in at a very satisfying 216 pages. Becky did a gorgeous job with the layout. You can purchase it from Little Dozen or from

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dana of Principled Discovery is hosting this week's Carnival of Homeschooling, using the close-to-my-zoologist's-heart theme of bird migration to tie everything together. Check it out!

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So Much for Vocabillary

or, Why Your Friends Should Always Read Your Work First

I'm rewriting an old short story for hopeful publication, and I asked my Wayside girls to read it over yesterday. Apparently, "laconic" does NOT mean something like "sluggish; uncaring."

It means "using or involving the use of a minimum of words : concise to the point of seeming rude or mysterious."

My vocabulary bubble has been burst.

Thanks, Rach ;).

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Monday, March 19, 2007

The Blessing of Family

It's finished! Yes, Letters to a Samuel Generation: The Collection is finally available in hardcover. I'm excited. It can already be ordered from Amazon, and will be available from Little Dozen as soon as my sister gets home so we can set up the PayPal links ;).

In the meantime, I wanted to share the lone SamGen essay that didn't make the book. It was written in the early years, and looking back, it doesn't quite fit the discipleship theme that SamGen grew into. However, it was special to me when I wrote it and still is now. Without further ado:


by Rachel Starr Thomson
originally written November 2001

Have you been to the movies lately?

Have you spent any time with teenagers?

Have you listened to the tone of the media?

If so, you may have noticed an alarming trend. Society believes, knowingly or not, that family is "uncool."

Youth leaders tell teens that their parents are out of touch, so they should come to their pastor if they have problems.

Older siblings spend oodles of energy trying to ditch their younger sisters and brothers in order to spend time at the mall, the movies, the bowling alley... anywhere where there are friends and no family.

Reunions, birthday celebrations, and Christmas get-togethers are seen as annoying obligations. And no amount of heartwarming, shallow movies about love and family seem to be able to offset the damage of this general slide away from family ties.

In church we hear about how curses are passed through the generations; at the therapist's we hear about how parents have permanently scarred their children and doomed them to life in and out of prisons, marriages, and happiness. This is probably true. But it is one side of the picture.

And as a product of the other side, I would like to protest.

Oh, my family has problems. We're human. But let me tell you about the blessings that have come through the generations.

When I was a little child, I had aunts and uncles around me constantly. I grew up feeling protected and loved. I didn't have to have anyone's constant attention. Just knowing they were there was security. About six years ago, my family moved away from our home in Canada and went to California, and I lost that shelter. Three months ago, I moved back home. A week ago I went to a cousin's thirteenth birthday party, and most of the aunts and uncles were there. And once again, I felt that shelter.

Every day, my paternal grandparents take a walk and pray for each of their grandchildren by name. Every day at evening devotions, my maternal grandparents ask the Lord to draw their children and grandchildren to Him. My walk with the Lord has been blessed in many unusual ways. And I don't have to wonder why. My mother, grandmothers, and aunts have taught me about being a woman, and more especially a lady. My uncles open doors for me. Uncle Stephen took me on my first date when I turned sixteen. Dad would take me out for coffee and ask about my needs and my interests every so often, just checking up on me. My cousins have taught me to lighten up and have fun, and to love people no matter what. My sisters and brothers have taught me to look for the good in people even when the bad is glaringly obvious. And when I've found the good, it's been beautifully, brilliantly, wonderful.

In my mother's Mennonite family tree, there are martyrs for Christ. In my father's Scottish history, there are preachers, pastors, and Sunday School teachers. For generations, there is prayer.

I have ten siblings to teach me about teamwork and growing up, eight aunts to giggle and trade stories with, four grandparents to show me what true priorities should be, six uncles to treat me like a princess, over forty cousins to laugh with, love with, and live with, and two parents to train me up in the way I should go. I am a product of generational blessings and generational grace. Have there been problems passed down? Yes. But I believe the good things outweigh the problems. To every one out there who thinks family isn't cool: Please, please, start building new relationships with those God has given you. Serve your sisters and brothers. Love your nieces and nephews. Pray for your children and grandchildren. It isn't ever too late to start.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Do You Have Time for Homeschooling?

The 63rd Carnival of Homeschooling, hosted this time by Henry and Janine Cate, is up! The theme is "Do You Have Time for Homeschooling?"

For those unfamiliar with the carnival, is a regular compendium of blog posts by homeschoolers, hosted on various blogs, and a great way to get to know some unusual families and great writers. This week's carnival includes practical tips on everything from writing to traveling with an eye for education, articles on recent news events, and more. Go check it out.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

In the Company of Genius

As a writing coach, I've had the privilege of helping over one hundred students become better writers. I love it. I have a confession to make, though: I've never taken a writing course in my life.

That doesn't mean I haven't had teachers. In fact, I've been taught by some of the best. Writers have the unique opportunity to sit at the feet of the masters, because words are deathless. My writing coaches span ages and literary genres: everyone from Shakespeare to Beatrix Potter; from Ray Bradbury to the Apostle Paul.

Writers read. If they don't, they bypass the greatest body of creative instruction in the world.

Here are a few tips for you, O Aspiring Writer:

1. Read through the ages. You may have a poster of Charles Dickens on your wall, but make sure you read things that have been written more recently than 1870. Writing as an art form has come a long way since the 19th century. Become familiar with the styles of past and present, and you can mine them for a style of your own that is neither outdated nor destined to go the way of New Kids On the Block.

2. Read poetry. Read poetry even if you don't understand it. Read it even if you don't like it. Poets use language in ways that will enrich your own writing if you let their work sink in.

3. Read nonfiction if you're a novelist; fiction if you write nonfiction. The styles can learn a lot from each other. Fiction writers know how to pace a story and involve the emotions and passions of their readers--it's a skill nonfiction writers can benefit from. Likewise, nonfiction writers know how to cut to the chase, communicate clearly, and make the mundane sound interesting. Novelists, take note.

(A quick aside: novelists and short story writers will also find that nonfiction books--history, science, biography, social issues, travelogues, and more--are an incredible storehouse of ideas.)

4. Read critically. When something moves you, ask yourself why. When you're bored, ask the same question. What's working? What isn't? Analyzing the work of others will help you
figure out what's strong or weak in your own writing. Keep a journal where you jot down your observations, along with favourite quotes, interesting new words, and ideas.

5. Read the thesaurus. For fun. Seriously. I do this when I'm bored. If you doubt the extreme "fun factor" of this activity, look up "miscellany." Who knew "rumble-bumble" was a word?

And last but not least...

6. Read books about writing. People spend hundreds of dollars on writing courses and conferences, but the library has a host of how-to books that will teach you a lot about structure and pace and dialogue and exposition and everything else you need to know.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

a long and happy sigh of relief

The files for Letters to a Samuel Generation have gone to the printer. I hope to have the proof in hand by next week, after which the book will be available for sale.

Feels good.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

what He deserves

Major Edit:

An anonymous commenter left a note saying that the story below is historically inaccurate. Accordingly, I spent about an hour this morning looking for reliable versions of it. A.C. was right, but the real story is not so far off.

A while back (think 1909), a fellow named J.E. Hutton wrote a history of the Moravian church which includes an account of this event. A little background: the Moravians were a group of Christians in what is now Czechoslovakia. They'd been around a goodly length of time, but in 1727 they experienced a revival under the leadership of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf. Remarkably for his time, the good count took an interest in the masses of people outside of the western world who had not heard the gospel. He met a slave from the Danish-owned island of St. Thomas who told him that no one could minister to the slaves in the West Indies without first becoming slaves themselves.

The idea startled Zinzedorf's community, but it also gripped them. Two young men, a potter and carpenter named Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann, decided after prayer and drawing lots that they would go. They set out for Denmark, meeting discouragement at every turn, and there realized that they could not actually sell themselves into slavery. Nonetheless, they took ship to St. Thomas and helped found many churches there.

The Moravians were the first major Protestant missionary movement: Dober and Nitschmann beat even William Carey to the field. The watchword of the Moravian missionary movement was the phrase that so caught my attention when I first read the (skewered) version of this tale: "May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering."

I've left part of the original post below, as an interesting example of how prettified versions of stories are easily spread. Thanks for the tip, whoever you are!

* * *

"Have You Heard The One About the Two Moravians & The Slave Owner?"

In the 1700s two young Moravians heard of an island in the West Indies where an atheist British owner had 2,000 to 3,000 slaves. The owner had said, "No preacher, no clergyman will ever stay on this island. If he’s shipwrecked we’ll keep him in a separate house until he has to leave, but he’s never going to talk to any of us about God. I’m through with all that nonsense." Three thousand slaves from the jungles of Africa brought to an island in the Atlantic, and there to live and die without ever hearing of Christ. Two young Moravians heard about it and decided to do something about it. They sold themselves to the British planter and then used the money they received from the sale to pay their passage out to his island, because he refused even to transport them. The Moravians came from Herrnhutt to see these two lads off. They were in their early twenties and would never return again, for they had sold themselves into lifetime slavery, simply that as slaves they could be as Christians among these others. The families were there weeping for they knew they would never see them again. And they wondered why they were going and questioned the wisdom of it. The ship slowly left its pier on the river at Hamburg, heading out to the North Sea, carried with the tide. As the gap widened and the hawsers had been cast off and were being curled up there on the pier, the two young men looked shoreward. Finally one lad with his arm linked through the arm of his fellow raised his hand and shouted across the gap the last words that were ever heard from them: "May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering."

(story used by permission of the Parousia Network)

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