I read a Tale of Two Cities when I was 16. Have you read it? Agonizing, tragic, beautiful story. Actually it feels pitiful to attempt words for that theme of all themes, captured in Charles Dickens’ wonderful work.

I tried to find paintings of Russia that relate to that story. In my search I found these landscapes by classical Russian painters Isaak Levitan and Ivan Shishkin, which touch on the bleak beauty of the story.

"Evening. Golden Plyos," Isaak Levitan, 1889

“Evening. Golden Plyos,” Isaak Levitan, 1889

What made me think of A Tale of Two Cities is its universal theme of self-sacrificing, substitutionary love. You’ve encountered this theme in countless books and movies. It is a concept known by every culture.

The Easter story contains that very heartbreaking notion of true love, as no other story does.

In the words of an old British preacher who we read often around here…

“I have always considered, with Luther and Calvin, that the sum and substance of the gospel lies in that word, Substitution, Christ standing in the stead of man. If I understand the gospel, it is this: I deserve to be lost and ruined; the only reason why I should not be damned is this, that Christ was punished in my stead, and there is no need to execute a sentence twice for sin.

"Rain in an Oak Forest," Ivan Shishkin, 1891

“Rain in an Oak Forest,” Ivan Shishkin, 1891

“On the other hand, I know I cannot enter heaven, unless I have a perfect righteousness; I am absolutely certain I shall never have one of my own, for I find I sin every day; but then Christ had a perfect righteousness, and he said, “There, take my garment, put it on; you shall stand before God as if you were Christ, and I will stand before God as if I had been the sinner; I will suffer in the sinner’s stead, and you shall be rewarded for works which you did not do, but which Christ did for you.

"march," Isaac Levitan. 1895

“march,” Isaac Levitan. 1895

“I think the whole substance of salvation lies in the thought, that Christ stood in the place of man. The prisoner is in the dock; he is about to be taken away for death; he deserves to die; he has been a mighty criminal. But before he is taken away, the judge asks whether there is any possible plan whereby that prisoner’s life can be spared. Up rises one who is pure and perfect himself; and has known no sin, and by the allowance of the judge, for that is necessary, he steps into the dock, and says, “Consider me to be the prisoner; pass the sentence on me, and let me die.”

-C.H. Spurgeon

At the Plant Nursery, children in tow

Where is your favorite place to go on a family shopping spree?

If you find our crew at a plant nursery, it will most definitely be true to say, “Now there is one big HAPPY family!”  We are sure to be walking around with a kind of stunned amazement, a collective buzzy glow, each thinking of what special plant we might single out to call our own, bring home and nurture, water, prune, steward into vigorous healthy growth! We do less talking, more wide-eyed air-sniffing experiencing of thousands of plant varieties all in some perfect state of cultivation.

Then… oh wait… there goes Finn climbing right where the sign says, “Do not climb,” so his fun level goes up a little while mine ever so slightly tapers.


But then there is magic again as my sweet children gather around the Coy pond, just like I remember doing as a little girl, where the dripping water-loving plants are proudly displaying the beauty of aquaponics. But then, “Oh, oops, honey, don’t poke the fish…”


I correct, she quickly obeys, and they continue to admire this watery wonderland where plants and animals mingle in perfect harmony. And I reflect on whether not-poking the Coy is a value I really need to instill, and decide that no, it’s not. :)


This is perfect! My husband and I seize the opportunity to drift away for a moment, just the two of us, to browse the climbing plants for something to fill in a couple bleak areas of our backyard. For 2-3 minutes it’s just the two of us; nevermind the 4 children climbing on the Coy pond retaining wall, poking at the fish; we are holding hands amongst the flowering vine families and maybe people don’t know they’re ours…

After a couple minutes, of course, I can’t help but peer back at the children. They’re gone. Apparently the baby took off through the hallway of rhododendrons and other acid-loving plants and got as far as the feathery maples. But bless their hearts, the two eldest are wrangling her. Romantic moment over, but greater crisis averted thanks to watchful older siblings.


Things get a little more organized as we hone in on a purpose and a strategy. Finn will pull the plant cart (3 year olds need to be put to work). Everyone may choose one plant to add to your part of the garden. (My husband fondly recalls his mom allowing him and his brothers to each choose a plant on trips to the nursery when he was a boy, so we carry on the tradition).


Finally we are done, all in one huddle, moving towards the check-out counter. Even that final trek holds great thrills as we pass the sun hats, the racks of illustrated seed packets, containers of wood and terra cotta, watering cans and hand tools that make us want to fall off the map and spend the rest of our days working the soil with our bare hands. I know our children feel the same way, though they are currently more enticed by the sacks of hundreds of ladybugs, the bug houses and insect magnification gadgets.


And all of this during my husband’s lunch break on a weekday. Let this stand as reason #1 I love to homeschool, and reason #85 I am thankful we live close to Garrett’s work.

And p.s., while we are on the subject of gardening, please let me highly recommend to you the single most useful tool in the Taylor gardenshed (we don’t really have a gardenshed) (but we do have this tool): the Japanese Hori Hori. This very high quality, multi-purpose tool has a stainless steel blade and wooden handle, so I do partly love it for its beauty. :) But more importantly, it is the only gardening tool a home gardener of any level will need, most days! It IS our trowel, our shovel, spade, hoe, machete… No matter what you are doing in the yard, it will almost always serve your purpose. Around here, all ages (except babies) are allowed to use this as needed to weed, plant, transplant, cut-back, till, and trim. The blade is neatly engraved with measurement lines for plant spacing and depth to exact specs (great for children learning measurements). You will use it every day in your garden! If you eavesdrop on our backyard, you will hear the word Hori Hori – pass the Hori Hori, my turn with the Hori Hori, where IS the Hori Hori… and so on.

I am positive you will love having one of your own. Happy gardening, friends!!

The book that turned me from non-runner to runner

First of all, it’s been 8 years, and I still relate with being a non-runner. I was not born with a natural gift for endurance, or a long lean runner’s body-type. And yet, God did make me capable of running! Even running long distances! Even enjoying running long distances!!

I did not teach myself how to run. I had tried and failed dozens of times over the years. Whenever I would try to pick up the pace, turning my walks into jogs, the jogging part would be a constant struggle of breathless torture and resuming a walk like pure ecstasy.

I still am amazed that words on a page, words, could change my physical reality so dramatically.

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When I picked up The Complete Book of Running for Women by Claire Kowalchik, I was 24. I was a new mother, relishing motherhood and also eager to get back in shape. I would take my baby on long, fast walks in the jogging stroller, but I was not reaching the level of fitness I desired.

Claire Kowalchik was like me: NOT a natural-born runner! It was so comforting that she could relate with the non-runner person. It was SO INSPIRING that she had become an avid runner in her early adulthood, and could explain to me how that happened!

Claire coached me mentally and physically and I made fast progress. I realized I had been trying to just up and do it, with no technique or strategy or plan. With her 10 week beginner’s running schedule, I was running 4 miles continuously, to my SHOCK, when I still just had a little nursing baby. And I would feel GREAT the rest of the day. And would want to do it again the next day!

One practical gem in the book is a simple breathing pattern which, after a few days of practice, did away with my rapid panic breathing! To this day, my husband and I both habitually breathe in this pattern on runs, when we’re not chatting. (It also helps prevent injury and side-aches).

She teaches the least exhausting and least injurious way to carry your body.  She discusses the difference between the physiology of males and females insofar as it effects running, as well as female topics relating to hormones, childbearing, nutrition, etc. Fascinating!

With my level of despair over previous failed attempts at running, her gentle attitude towards the novice, so inclusive and affirming, brought me out of embarrassment of my limitations into hope that I could one day say “I am a runner.” Claire Kowalchik will forbid you call yourself a jogger, no matter your pace.  ;)


I am not the only person who benefited from the wisdom in this book  :)

I still don’t have a long lean figure, but do you know how amazing it feels to know I could up and run somewhere far across town and not stop til I get there? That I can play chase with my children with energy and spring in my step? Or the simple exhilaration of trotting into the grocery store after parking far away, and getting that glorious surge of energy that makes you want to just keep running and running? (Garrett thinks I should make a Forrest Gump reference here but I’m trying to be serious)!

I love that at the age of 24, I finally discovered I could run! It changed my future by providing an efficient way to stay fit (for me AND my family, because I tote them along), and requires nothing but good running shoes, a good jogging stroller, and 5 or so high quality exercise outfits from Lululemon. :) Alright, my husband doesn’t go for that last part about Lululemon outfits either. But maybe he’ll let me get one little thing before our upcoming Half Marathon. :)