Review of Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novick

I had almost completely forgotten about the imminent publication of the next chapter in the Temeraire saga until just days before release, which was also right before my birthday. I figured that I would buy it for myself only to be pleasantly surprised that my husband had already bought it for me. I put off reading it until after I finished critiquing my husband’s completed manuscript for his first fantasy novel. In spite of reading it in short segments while nursing my son, I’ve still been able to follow the story very well.

Novick previous books have taken us from Europe to Asia to the Middle East, Africa and then Australia as we explore the use of dragons in her alternate history taking place in the Napoleonic era. In the Crucible of Gold we travel along with Lawrence and Temeraire to South America and explore the unique society of the Incan empire. My historically minded husband reminded me that the Incan civilization was long gone by this point in history, but Novick’s alternate history seems to imply that with the addition of dragons the Incan civilization had the ability to overcome the powerful conquerors of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Ship wrecks, mutinous sailors, another new language for linguistically inclined Temeraire to learn are just a few of the major events as the British party attempts to forge an allegiance with the Incas, keeping their eyes peeled for their French competitors. This book is an improvement over Tongues of Serpents, (which in my opinion was a bit of a low point in the series) but still doesn’t rank as high as my favorites like His Majesty’s Dragon and Empire of Ivory. But overall a worthwhile read and definitely leaves the reader looking forward to the next installment of the Temeraire saga.

Lord You’ve Been Good to Me: Dedicating our Son

This past Sunday we dedicated our son. Our church doesn’t baptize infants but we do dedicate them. Basically, we are promising before God and the other members of our church that we are committing to raise our child in an environment of faith until he is old enough to claim that faith as his own.

Our church has a special song that we sing for this occasion but parents may also select a song or hymn of their own choosing. We chose “Lord You’ve Been Good to Me” by Graham Kendrick. This song is neither popular enough to be trendy, nor old enough to be classic, like a traditional hymn. But it keeps popping up at significant times in my life. I vividly remember five years ago when we were struggling to get our house renovated so that we could move in before the lease on our apartment ran out. We weren’t looking for perfection; we were hoping that the walls would be up. I was upstairs painting while my husband and father were downstairs hanging dry wall. Suddenly a group of six or eight men from a bible study that my husband attended showed up at the front door to help. As I returned to my painting I couldn’t help but smile and sing “Lord, You’ve Been Good to Me.” During the nights that my daughter refused to sleep and my husband was at class, I sat on the floor in her doorway while she cried and sang “Lord, You’ve Been Good to Me.” This song came to my mind during my recovery from my miscarriage and the difficulties of this past pregnancy. Looking down at my newborn son I couldn’t help but breathe prayers of gratitude, “Lord, you really have been so good to me.”

Many times during this past pregnancy and shortly after my son was born it would have been easy to complain. When I developed gestational diabetes, I felt bitter that after a miscarriage I was having such a difficult pregnancy. When the baby was ten days late I said it was unfair. After he finally arrived I suffered bleeding complications that made me weak and lengthened my recovery. A week or two after he came home I fell down the stairs while holding him. Fortunately he was OK, but I was sore for a few weeks. It was easy to complain. I wish I could say that I was always thankful, always joyful. I wasn’t.

Right now I’m trying to finish (for the third time I might add) The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg. When I finished the chapter on the discipline of celebration I realized how often I miss out on the joy in life. Not two minutes after finishing the chapter my son spit up all over me (I was reading in bed while nursing him.) Normally I would have sighed loudly, possibly complained verbally and thought “here we go again, another beginning to another frustrating day.” But instead, I took a deep breath, prayed for strength, smiled at my son, cleaned up the mess and reminded myself that I needed to wash the sheets anyway.

My son’s dedication was another opportunity to celebrate, to experience joy and remind myself of how very good God has been to me.

Below are the lyrics to the song “Lord, You’ve Been Good to Me.” I invite you to look for the blessings in your own life and be thankful.

Lord you’ve been good to me
All my life, all my life
Your loving kindness never fails
I will remember
All you have done
Bring from my heart
Thanksgiving songs

New every morning is your love
Filled with compassion from above
Grace and forgiveness full and free
Lord you’ve been good to me

So may each breath I take
Be for you Lord, only you
Giving you back the life I owe
Love so amazing
Mercy so free
Lord you’ve been good
So good to me

Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novick

I never got around to reviewing this book after I read it last year. I have to say sadly, I was disappointed. Not much seems to happen and what little does (the exploration of the interior of Australia) seems to take far too long. We are reintroduced to a rather annoying character from His Majesty’s Dragon, Captain Rankin and most additional characters are entirely forgettable and unremarkable. While the descriptions of the wilds of the Australian outback were interesting after a while I began to feel like I had been wandering through the wilderness. I picked up and put down this book more often than any of Novick’s others. I just couldn’t get into the story. I was less bored during the never ending sea voyage of Throne of Jade or the desert trek in Black Powder War. A disgraced Lawrence didn’t give me much hope for or interest in the future of the character and Temeraire’s dragon superiority act was wearing a bit thin. The book felt too short and yet nothing really seems to happen. The characters don’t really grow or change and the only major obstacles aside from the wilderness itself were some strange creatures that seemed like they better belonged in a cheesy horror or thriller novel rather than a well-crafted piece of fantasy/alternate history fiction. Get through this book as it is required to set up Crucible of Gold, but I wouldn’t expect the same page-turning quality of Novick’s other books.

VBS: A Dry Run for Preschool?

My daughter is attendingVacationBibleSchoolfor the first time this week. While she has gone to the Moppets program at our local MOPS chapter and attending Sunday School at our church, this is the first time I have left her some place besides with a relative. She would barely each breakfast she was so exited and practically dragged me out the door. She was the first child to arrive in her class so I waited with her until a couple kids she knew arrived. She had a fantastic time and cried on the way home that she couldn’t stay longer. All she could talk about was how much fun she had at “her special Bible school.” This made me realize two things. One: I enjoy having a couple hour break from my daughter sometimes. Two: she thrives on socialization and new learning activities. I know that when the week is over she will be disappointed.

I also plan to take her to practically every activity held at our local library for her age group this summer. They have a summer reading program that runs for five weeks. None of the sessions are very long but there are craft times, play dates, and story times. They have activities four mornings a week. I don’t know if we will make it to all of them, but for my daughter’s sake I will try to take her to as many as I can, though I will miss being able to drop her off and have a few hours to think. I do still have my baby son at home, but this morning he mostly slept during the time that my daughter was at VBS.

Many of my friends are putting their three-year-olds in preschool this coming fall. I didn’t sign my daughter up for a few reasons. 1: While my daughter is social she’s never been in a situation with all new people before. Even VBS had some familiar friends from her MOPPETS class. 2: Preschool tuition in our area runs at least $100 a month unless your child qualifies for the Headstart program. 3: I’m not sure I’m ready to give up my place as primary educator of my child. This last reason is one I will elaborate on in a future post. My husband and I are currently in a major quandary about what to do regarding our daughter’s education. I’m reluctant to send her to public school, though at least our local elementary school is a good one. But class sizes are still rather large and the school day seems long for how little material is actually covered in a day. There is a great charter school but spots are awarded by lottery so there is no guarantee of admission and the school days at the charter school are even longer. I would love to send her to private school but that is completely out of the question due to the cost of tuition. Which leave us with the ultimate option of homeschooling about which I also have my doubts.

For now I’ll watch my daughter enjoy VBS and think about the approaching fall some more. No matter how many times I run the numbers there still isn’t the money for preschool tuition but at the same time I know she would enjoy herself. Perhaps I can find some of compromise of home teaching, field trips and free local library activities that will keep her busy until next year when we will revisit the issue all over again.

If I do what I can do, He will do what I cannot

I was recently reminded about a piece of wisdom given to me several years ago. If I do what I can do, God will do what I cannot. This piece of wisdom was passed along by a friend who had battled Type 2 diabetes for many years. She was on several medications and only partially managed her condition. She began to pray about her condition and she felt like God said to her. “If you do what you can do, I will do what you cannot.” So over the next few years she altered her diet, and increased her exercise. She lost a lot of weight and soon her doctor began taking her off her medications one by one until her diabetes was managed primarily by diet and exercise. She had tried to do this in the past with limited success, but this time, for whatever reason, it worked. She considered it an answer to prayer.

I find myself looking for similar instances in my own life. It is easy to look at the challenges I’m faced with and feel discouraged. Whether it be our student loan debt, dwindling savings account or my strong willed toddler; there are days when the difficulties seem insurmountable. But now I’m trying to remember that piece of wisdom. If I do what I can do, He will do what I cannot.

I can’t magically increase our savings account and evaporate our debt. But I can live frugally, manage our finances well and leave the rest up to God. I can’t transform my independent, strong-willed three-year-old into a laid back child. But I can provide her with love and healthy boundaries and leave the rest up to God. Obsessing over the difficulty of the terrain won’t make the mountain any smaller, but it will make the climb more unpleasant.

Blueberry Third Birthday

Last Saturday my daughter turned three years old. I still can’t believe that she is already three. It seems like just yesterday she was just a tiny screaming newborn or an adorable smiling baby. Now she is a charming, intelligent but difficult toddler, soon to be preschooler. There are days when being with her is a joy, but at the same time there are moments when I wish I had signed her up for preschool this coming fall, just to get a break.

We invited my parents, my grandmother and my sister, brother-in-law and nephew for lunch. We served pasta and meatballs, which is one of my daughter’s favorite meals. I asked her what she wanted for her birthday cake and she asked for a blueberry cake. I searched the internet and found a recipe for blueberry cake and made homemade whipped cream frosting to go with it. I modified it by making two 8 inch round cakes instead of one 13 X 9. Then I put whipped cream frosting and fresh blueberries between the layers and decorated the top of the cake with fresh blueberries as well. The look of joy on her face and the yummy noises she made while eating it, made all the hard work worthwhile.

During the party she kept pulling out old pictures of herself and talking about how she used to be a baby but now she’s three. The last six months have been especially challenging and I think the next year may be as well. But at the same time it is amazing to watch her change and grow. She loves books and enjoys “reading” along with audio CD’s. She loves big words like “disgusting” and phrases like “choking hazard” (though she thinks that it’s a choking lizard). She calls her new baby brother’s little boy parts “tickles” and calls him buddy boy and baby muffin head. I wonder what she will come up with before she turns four.