New Resources for Adult Christian Formation

Several new resources have just been released, all appropriate for adult Christian formation groups or individual use. Here’s my list of recommendations of new resources.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin. A wonderfully written invitation to do ministry right where you are, in your own neighborhood and with people you encounter each and every day. This young woman and mom of several kids tells how her own concept of “ministry” changed after she moved to a low income urban area. She urges everyone to go and seek out neighbors – and ministry – among the forgotten corners of their own cities and towns. Just published, available in e-book, paperback, audio, and CD.

The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture by Haley Stewart. The author does a great job of connecting the current trend of minimalism with Christian ethics. She tells the story of moving out of a suburban home in Florida to truly minimalist digs on a farm in Texas (compost toilets included). Great for church groups in connecting Christianity to environmental stewardship. Published September 2018, available in paperback and Kindle.

Dreaming with God: A Bold Call to Step Out and Follow God’s Lead by Sarah-Beth Marr. The author uses her former career as a ballerina to encourage readers to follow new calls and go forward in their life journeys. Beautifully written and excellent for those feeling “stuck” in their lives or careers and ready to do something new. Available in both e-book and paperback for about $10 – a bargain.

Coming this spring…

Purpose by Jordan Dooley.  This book truly inspired me. The author addresses woman going through all kinds of everyday stress and challenges: frustration, perfectionism, shame, rejection, insecurities, and other obstacles to peace and well-being. Her audience is younger women, but this middle-aged gal found it helpful as well. Dooley is a terrific storyteller and uses metaphors from everyday life that anyone can relate to. Perfect for church women’s groups. Coming in March 2019.

Enjoy some great reading this fall! Blessings, Cindy

It’s Fall Knitting Season! New Pattern Collections Just Published

Finally, Fall has arrived here at Sycamore Cove in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. We actually had cool weather this week, and I got to wear a sweater I knitted two months ago.

With Fall weather comes the upcoming Christmas gifting season and cool days and evenings perfect for wearing hand knit sweaters. Several new pattern collections have just been published, just in time for getting those knitting needles in gear.

100 Knits: Interweave’s Ultimate Pattern Collection. This whopping 500 page collection of patterns has it all – shawls, hats, sweaters, cowls. These are customer favorite patterns from this publisher, collected in one huge book. My copy just arrived, and I’m itching to get started with several of these classic yet contemporary designs. Just published in October 2018.

Knitting for Little Sweethearts by Hanne Andreassen Hjelmås and Torunn Steinsland.    This book offers lovely, classically designed garments for babies, toddlers, and small children. The authors are two moms, and their collection features a huge number of garments children actually wear – rompers for babies, sweat pants for toddlers, and lots and lots of caps. This will be your go-to book if you often knit for small children or like to give handmade baby gifts. Coming October 28, available for pre-order.

Knitting Ganseys by Beth Brown-Reinsel. This excellent book covers both the history and construction of this classic British sweater and offers a number of patterns. Recommended for advanced knitters.

Knockout Knits and Hoods by Diane Serviss. This book offers a number of do-able hat patterns, despite the rather spectacular hat on the cover. Many patterns incorporate yarns from the big box stores. Recommended for the average knitter.

What to knit next???

Blessings, Cindy

 

 

Climate Change: Doing Something About It Is Right Under Your Nose

Climate change seems like one big, monstrous, global problem with no easy answers. And to some extent, it is. But let’s step back and look at what caused climate change: consumerism– an ever- increasing demand for more and more and more consumer goods, along with the waste incurred in both the production and disposal of all our “stuff.”

I’ll give you a person example of how much more “stuff” we’ve managed to accumulate here in America within one or two generations. My mother, born in 1933, had a mere two skirts and three blouses as a girl. She kept all her possessions in one small wooden box. In contrast, I took three bags of unused and no longer wanted clothes out of my closet and gave them to charity this past Saturday. And this removal of three bags of my clothes barely made a dent in the overall clutter of our house. Within a century, my family has gone from a minimalist lifestyle to a house packed full of items we may or may not even use on a regular basis.

We could call this “upward mobility.” We could call this a “triumph of American capitalism.” Or we could call this a trend towards gluttony, avarice, and waste. I’ll plead guilty to it all.

There are downsides to this robust consumer economy we’ve built up over the last several decades. Not everyone enjoys it, and the disparities of wealth continue to spread apart. And we have littered our world with the detritus of this constant production and disposal of goods we don’t keep and likely don’t need.

The solution? We need to consume less and waste less. We can all take actions in our everyday lives to reduce waste and put our own consumerist tendencies on a diet:

  • Buy less stuff. You’re enabling a wasteful economy by continuing to buy stuff you likely don’t need.
  • Use less energy. This is not rocket science. Turn off lights you aren’t using. My pet peeve: turn off your car in the school pick-up line. Roll down the window if you need fresh air. Combine errands. Don’t run the heat or air conditioning to excess.
  • Just say no to all the plastic bags you’re offered at the store. Take your own re-useable bags.
  • Recycle, re-use, or re-purpose stuff after you’re done with it. Donate unused and household goods to charity. Re-use clean paper bags and shopping bags. Compost vegie scraps. This isn’t hard, and you’ll feel better about yourself. I promise.

Are these steps hard? No. But is everyone doing them? No, and I don’t understand why.

Wastefulness is not a virtue, and it’s time we all try a little harder to curb our excesses. It’s up to every one of us, not just as a culture, but in our individual, everyday lives as well.

Recommended resource:

The Sustainable Home: Practical Projects, Tips and Advice for Maintaining a More Eco-Friendly Household by Christine Liu. (Quarto Publishing Group/White Lion Publishing, just released October 4, 2018). This excellent new book offers a wealth of practical tips on living more sustainably. The author’s discussion of how consumerism has resulted in a plethora of environmental problems is quite good. Tips are well organized by “rooms” of a typical house (living room, kitchen, bath, etc.). Many of these suggestions are obvious, but clearly many people are still living quite wastefully and not heeding them yet. This book would be a terrific resource to share with those not quite on-board with sustainable living. If all of us adopted just a few of these suggestions, we would make a dent in improving our world.

Cynthia Coe served as an Environmental Stewardship Fellow of The Episcopal Church and is the author of three books connecting environmental issues with a life of faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Change and Knitting: The Diminishing Need for Sweaters

I have a new wardrobe classification – fall colors but still summer. Here in Tennessee, the calendar says it’s fall, but the temperatures are still in the upper eighties and low nineties. For me, this means continuing to wear sleeveless dresses in feather light materials that are floaty and provide maximum air circulation. Otherwise, I’ll sweat like a roasting pig every time I step outside.

Yet in my in-box and everywhere else I look in the online fashion world, all I see are heavy sweaters. I love to knit, and the yarns currently on offer suggest a coming need for heavy, bulky, dark and autumnal hued hats, scarves, pullovers, and blankets. I don’t want to knit that stuff when it’s ninety degrees outside!

All my current knitting projects at the moment come from skeins of lightweight cotton. And I won’t even be able to wear my new cotton, short-sleeved sweaters for another month, at least. I knitted a lovely self-striping, short-sleeved, cotton sweater two months ago. I wore it once and stripped it off before noon. So no surprise I haven’t stocked up on any of the new winter yarns yet.

Climate change has, for much of the country, drastically cut the need for winter clothes. Several years ago, I gave almost all of my sweaters away to the charity store. I simply didn’t need them any longer. If we do have a harsh cold snap, I’ve kept two heavy turtlenecked sweaters for those several days. I use knitted hats for about a month, in January, but those have become superfluous, too.

Where does that leave the craft of knitting? It needs to change. Give us patterns we can wear year- round. Give us more cotton, bamboo or other lightweight yarns that can breathe. Give us sleeveless and short-sleeved patterns or home goods we can use for something other than wearing. In short, I really and truly wish the fashion industry (including the knitting supply industry) would acknowledge that in 2018, we just don’t need heavy sweaters any more.

Recommended Resource of the Week:

100 Knits by the Interweave Editors. This new collection of patterns includes a whopping 500 pages of contemporary garment patterns for hats, shawls, cowls, sweaters, and socks. I was delighted to find a whole section in the back for what the editors call “t-shirts” – lighter weight and either short-sleeved or sleeveless sweaters perfect for those of us in warmer climates. Just released in October 2018.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony With the Everyday World Around Us, two novels, and resources to introduce young people to creation care.

 

Crafting Local – Basket Weaving From Local, Natural Materials

After sticking to my own knitting (literally) as my only craft for the last several decades, I recently picked up the art of basket weaving. Basket weaving appeals to my need for quiet, tactile meditative time. Weaving the materials proves a less exact and more free-form craft experience, and I enjoyed designing traditional Appalachian potato baskets on the fly, throwing in pops of color and even some brightly-colored yarn and twine.

Best of all, I love using all-natural materials. I love that I can pull branches of honeysuckle out of my own front yard, twist them into a frame for a basket, and make something useful for my home. This use of materials right off my farm is something I can’t quite do with knitting – I’m not about to get into sheep farming just to have wool to knit.

What I don’t like about basket weaving is having to use rattan imported all the way from Southeast Asia to make my baskets. I find myself wondering what my Cherokee ancestors used for their baskets. They certainly didn’t send off to another continent for supplies. Surely they used something local, something readily available from the forest around them.

So I’m glad to see more books and resources coming along that show how to use crafting materials right in front of our noses (or many of our noses; I realize not everybody lives on the edge of a forest, as I do). Looking out my window, I want to use the many and abundant materials both Native American and European settlers used for crafting centuries ago. Like these ancestors, I want to make something useful and practical, not some silly tchotchke that takes up space and serves no purpose whatsoever.

I want my crafts to flow out of the forest and meadows on which I draw my sense of peacefulness. In my crafting, I want to take the fruits of the earth and shape them into an expression of my creativity as well as a natural solution to my needs.

Recommended Resources:

Willow: Traditional Craft for Modern Living by Jenny Crisp (coming soon, release date of October 25, 2018).

Basic Basket Making: All the Skills and Tools You Need to Get Started by Linda Franz and Alan Wycheck

Pine Needle Basketry: From Forest Floor to Finished Project by Judy Mallow

The Basket Book: Over 30 Magnificent Baskets to Make and Enjoy by Lyn Siler and Carolyn Kemp

Cynthia Coe is the author of Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony With the Everyday World Around Us, two novels, and resources to introduce young people to creation care.

Solitary, Silent Christianity – It’s a Thing

Do you know someone who says, “my Sunday worship service is time on the lake,” or “I spend time with God hiking the Smokies”? Maybe you feel this way yourself?

With church attendance continuing to drop and as more and more Americans classify themselves as “none” or “done” with religion, it’s time to acknowledge that there’s more than one way to practice Christianity than to go to church on Sunday morning.

Those who practice their faith in the privacy of their own homes, out in the garden, up in the mountains, or sitting in a boat in the middle of a quiet lake are just as Christian as those who show up to sit in a pew every Sunday morning. In fact, during the early years of Christianity, those who took their faith the most seriously fled the noise and drama of communities and went out into the most remote places they could find to be alone and silent with God.

We’re told time and time again that Christianity “must” be practiced within a community. But running counter to the story of Christianity in community is the story of a quieter, more meditative Christianity practiced far from the maddening crowds, far from any institutional requirements or expectations, far from any sort of so-called human authority or hierarchy.  This was the story of those who sought God in the lonely solitude of the deserts, the forests, the caves, and in far-flung, off-the-beaten-path places.  This quieter story was lived out by holy men and women we now call “saints,” by monks and nuns, and later by simple pioneers and settlers who without fuss incorporated faith into their daily agricultural chores. Early Christian saints sought out the wild, the untamed, and the deserted as they sought God and deepened their own spiritual lives.

The “Desert Fathers and Mothers” – men and women who moved out to far flung places in the deserts of the Middle East – sought a heightened spirituality, a life lived close to God.  They craved the quiet, the solitude, and the serenity of life in the wilderness, away from the daily dramas of community life.  Perhaps they craved, too, a little danger as well.  The thrill and confidence of surviving an unforgiving environment, wild animals, and a focus on the bare necessities of life likely gave them perspective, heightened awareness of their surroundings, clearer thinking, and time to wrestle down any emotional demons they had carried with them into the desert.

Like any wilderness experience in both ancient and contemporary times, the challenge of surviving in the desert toughened up these men and women, burning away all selfishness, hedonistic desires, greed for material goods, and anger.  One “desert father,” Joseph of Panephysis, was said to have advised a young disciple that the point of this tough-love spirituality was to become “all flame.”  Perhaps that’s what modern people who are “done” with church seek as well – a purer, more authentic spiritual experience than sitting on a pew in a stuffy building.

So the next time you look askance at someone foregoing a church service to spend the day in the garden, on the lake, or off in the mountains, it’s okay. So did a lot of Christians we now call Saints.

Several paragraphs of this blog post are excerpted from Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony With the Everyday World Around Us by Cynthia Coe, available in e-book and paperback editions on Amazon.com.

Wilderness as the Forgotten Place of Spirituality

The idea of wilderness as a place of deep spirituality is not new at all.  If we delve into Old and New Testament roots of spirituality in the wilderness, we see that many – if not all – of the major figures in the Bible sought quiet time in the wilderness to confront, deepen, or connect with their own spirituality.

What changed?  Spirituality – as part of the religious life – became institutionalized.  As Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire, it moved into closed spaces and became subject to rules, presided over by priests and organized into a formal religion.  For Western European and American Christians, spirituality became a boxed-in, regulated practice virtually divorced from its early connection with the wilderness.  Even in the late twentieth century, prayer was generally something you did in the church building or at the dinner table or before you tucked yourself or your children into bed.  For most Christians, the rich tradition of spirituality in the wilderness was forgotten.

But life changed around the turn of the twentieth century.  Cities and villages had always existed, but in the mid-twentieth century, people in Western Europe and the Americas began a long and civilization-changing migration from farm to town.  They began working in office buildings and living in apartment buildings, suburban home developments, and other medium to high density venues.  The farm was left behind, and so was almost all connection to the natural world.  The “outdoors,” for most people, became a city park or a back yard.  If you want to connect with the natural world, you have to make an effort.

The connection between the wilderness and spirituality has never been more needed or well-suited for humans than any time since the ancient world. As church participation and attendance continues to plummet, we might appreciate that time in the wilderness is a time-honored spiritual practice. If a majority of Americans do not darken the doors of churches any longer, it may because they have chosen quiet, soul-nourishing spiritual experiences that are just as much a part of Christianity as a structured liturgy led in a boxed-in building.

This blog post is an excerpt from Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony With the Everyday World Around Us by Cynthia Coe, available in both e-book and paperback editions at Amazon.com.

Crafting with Kids, Crafting in Nature

As we look toward a more environmentally friendly and sustainable world, one area where teachers, children’s ministry leaders, and youth leaders can both make a difference and set an example for younger generations is their choice of materials for crafts. Whether in the classroom, Sunday School room, or during summer camp, offering children and youth all-natural materials or objects found in nature for crafting activities can both help address “nature deficit disorder” and walk the walk of acting with good stewardship of earth’s resources.

Several excellent resources for crafting with nature have recently become available.  Thanks to their publishers, I’ve been able to read and review advance copies of these new books, and I’m delighted to report that they are all great resources for teachers and camp leaders.

Nature Art Workshop by Katie Brooks, Sarah Lorraine Edwards, Allison Hetzell, Mikko Sumulong. This gorgeous book has sharp photographs to inspire crafts using flowers, wood, shells, feathers, acorns, and other items found in nature. These projects show that natural elements found in a backyard or nearby park can be used to make pictures, candles, and other art projects.  A lovely book to have around the classroom for children and youth to get ideas for their projects. Available on Kindle September 18, also coming soon in print.

Nature Craft by Fiona Hayes. This nicely illustrated and photographed book offers lots of projects for smaller children.  Using natural elements (sticks, pine cones, feathers) along with purchased materials (felt, paper, googly eyes), this book includes instructions for making lots of forest critters and a couple of masks.  Instructions for making sheep and angels are particularly helpful for Sunday School teachers. This book would be good for teachers who want to use a few natural elements but also want to use more traditional crafting materials. Just published in hardcover.

Into Nature by Autumn Totten and Alexandra Frey. This book is an interactive journal for older children and teens to take into nature, serving as a guide, journal, and inspiration to explore nature in a meaningful way.  I loved that the book is not just for the “outdoorsy”types and meets kids where they are in terms of comfort level in wild or semi-wild settings. (There’s even a couple of exercises involving house plants for those squeamish amongst the bugs and dirt.) This journal includes a comprehensive set of exercises appealing to all the senses (e.g. exploring how it feels to put your bare feet in mud), leading young people to truly immerse themselves in nature. This book would be a wonderful companion for young people attending summer camps.  It emphasizes mindfulness and would be fully compatible with church camp curricula. Just published in paperback.

Foraging with Kids by Adele Nozedar. For a more “foody” twist on crafting in nature, this book is for you. This book leads you through the woods to explore what is edible, with simple recipes included. For children and youth who are not into making crafts, foraging for food in nature provides a bit more daring alternative. For youth leaders who regularly take kids on hikes, this book provides a great resource identifying plants and exploring what you can do with them.  This book is written for a primarily British audience, but much of it is applicable to the forests of North America. Available on Kindle and in hardcover September 18, available for pre-order now.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Wild Faith: A Creation Care Curriculum for Youthand Earth Our Garden Home: Creation Care Lessons for Childrenand served as an Environmental Stewardship Fellow of The Episcopal Church.

Forest Bathing For Beginners – You Don’t Have to Wear Hiking Boots to Commune with Nature

You don’t have to wear hiking boots and head off to the Appalachian Trial to commune with nature. If you do, consider yourself at the “mastery” level of appreciating time in nature. Most of us are not in that category, and that’s okay. We meet nature where we are.

In a new book, The Joy of Forest Bathing: The Mysterious Art of Shirin-Yoku, Melanie Choukas-Bradley introduces “Forest Bathing” to western readers and takes the mystery out of this traditional Japanese practice. “Forest bathing” is simply going out in the forest or other wild or semi-wild place and communing with nature. By undergoing a full sensory immersion in nature, you let go of your worries, forget about the rest of the world, and experience the beauty and wonder of the natural world around you. This beautifully illustrated book leads those of us who do not wear hiking boots to step out into the natural world, unplug, and find peace and harmony within oneself and the world around us.

In The Joy of Forest Bathing, the author reiterates what most of us know intuitively and what science has shown to be true: time in nature is good for you. It lowers your blood pressure, improves your focus, makes you feel happier, and soothes your soul. What I liked about this book is that the author opens the door and invites everyone into nature – children, youth, the very elderly, the disabled. You don’t have to be super fit and a rugged mountaineer to experience the wonder of a forest. You can do forest bathing in your own neighborhood or in a public park. The point is to spend quiet, alone time in nature and get away from our wired, overstimulating, stressful world.

The Joy of Forest Bathing: The Mysterious Art of Shirin-Yoku by Melanie Choukas-Bradley comes out August 28 and is available for pre-order now. The illustrations and photographs in the book are lovely and calming in and of themselves; be sure to read this in print or on a color-enabled e-reader. Suggestions for experiencing a sense of wonder in nature are provided for all four seasons, along with many other helpful tips. Highly recommended.

Cynthia Coe is the author of three books introducing children, youth, and adults to environmental stewardship and served as an Environmental Stewardship Fellow of The Episcopal Church. Her books Earth Our Garden Home, Wild Faith, and Considering Birds & Lilies are available on Kindle and in print at this link.

 

 

 

 

New Books on Knitting and Yarn Crafts

Greetings, Fellow Knitters!  When I’m not knitting, I’m a writer and book reviewer. I’m always checking out new books, including new resources for knitting. Several new books have come out recently (or will soon). Check these out to expand your knitting skills or find a new project:

Knitting Ganseys, Revised and Updated by Beth Brown-Reinsel.  This is an excellent book for expanding your knitting skills or for reference. I especially liked the history of this type of knit sweater, along with the detailed explanation of how exactly a sweater is properly constructed. I will likely use this book for ideas for making my own designs, and this use of the book is embraced by the author. I would have liked a separate set of the stitch designs featured. These sweaters are beautiful but a bit too complicated for my needs and interests. I will likely use some of the stitch patterns in my own designs, but not the entire sweater patterns.

Knitting Modular Shawls, Wraps, and Stoles by Melissa Leapman. The big picture concept is fairly simple: combine triangular shawls to make larger garments. Many of us love to knit shawls but end up having too many of them to use. This concept helps with figuring out what to do with all these shawls. An unexpected surprise of this book was all the many, many stitch patterns on offer. I’m always looking for a fairly straightforward (and easy to remember) stitch to give my work a little kick, and this book has plenty. Honestly, the value of this book is more in the patterns than in the concept of combining various shapes of shawls to make bigger ones. Lots of ideas for making and designing your own shawls.

Crochet 101, by Deborah Burger.  Occasionally, we knitters need to chain stitch a neckline. Or maybe we have a midlife crisis and want to figure out exactly what else you could do with that crochet needle you keep around to weave in your loose ends. This book covers the basics. I wondered how I could learn to crochet from a book, so I put it to the test. I’m happy to report that I did indeed learn to make a swatch of single chain stitch. With more time, I think I could master the other basics of crochet with this book.

One Piece Knits: Essential Designs in Multiple Sizes and Gauges for Sweaters Knit Top Down, Side Over, and Back to Front by Margaret Hubert. I just finished my first top-down, all-in-one-piece sweater, and I love the easy process of this method. I’ve got more of these sweaters in my future, using this book. Currently bargain priced at $6.70.

For more book reviews and other resources, follow my blog at www.sycamorecove.org Cynthia Coe is a writer, book reviewer, and curriculum designer. Her books and blog posts can be found on her Amazon Author Page.