the 2014 Reading Roundup

February 1, 2015

It’s that time of year again! Time to look back on all of the stories and words that filled me up over the last year, and try to encourage you to spend some time with them too. 



Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity. -G.K. Chesterton



Affairs at Thrush Green , Gossip from Thrush Green and Farther Afield by Miss Read 
I have yet to tire of Miss Read. Her little villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green and all of the people in them are my favorite place for retreat.


Until Tomorrow  and Finding Father Christmas by Robin Jones Gunn
The first of these was a revisiting of a book and characters I loved in my teen years. Of course over a decade later a lot of it seems very silly. But it was still kind of fun. The second book was a welcome companion for afternoon naps during the hectic Christmas season. Not deep literature. But an engaging story.


The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
I feel like this one should be in gigantic bold letters, because anyone who knows me at all knows this is a drastic departure from anything I would ever be drawn to. I had attempted it a couple of years ago in an effort to get acquainted with my husband’s favorite stories for retreat, and did not make it far. Then I listened to Sarah Clarkson talk in a webinar about the amazingness of Tolkein’s characters and felt inspired to try again. And I did it. It was hard. Grueling at points. I just kept reminding myself of the time a few years ago when I fought my way through War of the Worlds at my sister’s request. And I kept going. And just like my experience with War of the Worlds, I didn’t really think I was a big fan of The Hobbit…. until the very last page. And then I loved it. My thoughts on that will require a longer post another time.


Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard
This book is an allegory based on life experience; comparable to Pilgrim’s Progress. A friend gave me her extra copy two or three years ago and it sat on my shelf untouched… until a few months ago when it caught my eye and some feeling inside told me I need to read this now. What followed was days full of words that were like a banquet feast to someone who has been starving to death. The most life-giving words I read this year.


The Shoe Box by Francine Rivers
I read this because I found it at a library book sale and am fond of the author. A cute story, but very short. Worth a quick read if you come across it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find it.


The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
Ever since Great Expectations I have known that Dickens is incredible and well worth the effort to read. This story continued to affirm these convictions in my mind. Short and sweet and really mind-blowing how he is able to take you from loving, to completely hating, to completely loving again a character and a story. A must read!




“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” – Flannery O’Connor



When People are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch
A book about the “fear of man”… what it is, what it looks like and what is wrong with it. I didn’t think this was an issue for me until I started reading. Now I would say I think it’s probably an issue to one degree or another for almost everyone. Really good book. I recommend you read it and then encourage someone else to read it to.


Dancing With My Father by Sally Clarkson
This was a peaceful, encouraging read. Nothing earth-shattering, but nice.


Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
This one was a big deal for me. Not the sort of thing I typically read, but I had seen so much buzz about it online that I caved and had to try it. I will say up front there were some parts of the book where I disagreed with the worldview beneath the information, but I don’t neccesarily think that discounts that information. That aside, I spent pretty much this entire book internally screaming “I’m not the only one!!!!”. This was a very liberating read for me. I’ve struggled much and often with guilt over my personality and how I don’t ever seem to quite fit with all of the bubbly and exuberant people around me. But I never considered myself an introvert because I am not at all shy and do enjoy being around people. This book set me straight on that being a very narrow definition of the term and went on to make it quite clear that I am an introvert with a capital I. On top of that it introduced me to the term “highly sensitive person” and I found even further explanation of myself (on the self test I scored 26 out of 27!). All this self-investigation/discovery was enlightening, weird, interesting, and at times overwhelming. So there you go. 


As Always, Julia edited by Joan Reardon
I had a bit of a brutal shake up this time last year when some of our very closest friends moved across the country. As is my tendency, I looked to words for comfort, and I found them here. This book is a collection of letters exchanged between Julia Child and her very close friend Avis DeVoto during the time in their lives when Julia lived in Europe and Avis lived in the United States. I LOVED reading through these letters and was so comforted by seeing that good friendships can survive long distances, and that the woes and wonders of a woman’s life have not changed one bit in the last fifty years. It also encouraged me to cling tightly to my affinity for hand written letters. A book full of emails could never possibly be as beautiful!


Discipline the Glad Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot
More life-giving wisdom from a beautiful woman who has lived a life of faith and has been the greatest spiritual mentor in my own life thus far. One of the few books by her I hadn’t yet read, and I’m so glad that I finally got to read it.


A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
This was a loan from my Mom, who I do not typically share the same taste in books with. But food is a wonderful avenue of bringing people together, and I have discovered in the last couple of years that in spite of all of my resolute efforts against succumbing to trends, I have become a bit of a foodie (in the loosest most house-wifey, sans-alcohol-because-I-don’t-like-it sense of the term ). I loved this book. Non-fiction, but the story captivated me just like a novel. The french toast recipe is to die for. And surprise of surprises, the cream braised cabbage was incredible. Might have been the first time I ate cabbage in my life that wasn’t hiding in a heap of coleslaw, and it was wonderful. If you like food or like to cook, or if you don’t like to cook and need to be inspired to like it, read this book.


The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller
This is a tiny little book with some incredibly helpful insight. Well worth reading!


The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
I’ve attempted this one multiple times in the past and could never get through it. But I made it through this time and found it to be a very thought-provoking, encouraging read. 


Anne Steele and Her Spiritual Vision by Priscilla Wong
A friend gave me this book, to introduce me to a woman she thought I might find to be a kindred spirit. She judged very well. The book is a bit like reading a college research paper, but I was completely drawn into the life and writings of this 18th century hymn writer. It never ceases to amaze me how deeply the words of a stranger from centuries ago can speak so directly to my own life. 


A Spoonful of Sugar – A Nanny’s Story by Brenda Ashford
I saw this recommended on a blog and decided to give it a try. I loved it. Such a fun read about the real-life experiences of a professional British nanny during the early 20th century. A perfect choice for reading that captivates and gives rest all at the same time.


Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth
Another blog recommendation I tried. I thought some of her views were a bit romanticized (that coming from a hopeless romantic!). But I found it had a lot of helpful ideas to ponder. And the potato soup recipe at the end of the book was the most wonderful find ever. A new favorite of our whole family.


Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa-Jo Baker
This summer our family spent eight days living in with and caring for my five year old niece and one year old nephew while my sister and her husband were traveling. It was quite the adventure! By day seven being “mom” to five children instead of three had begun to take it’s toll and I felt myself internally begging for retreat. Thankfully, by that time we had transferred locations from the townhouse that required constant supervision, to the ranch house that offered endless outside space for play. I found this book on my sister’s bookshelf, plopped a plastic lawn chair in the middle of the yard where I could see and hear everyone, and read. The entire day. The whole book. It was the most relieving kind of escape. And that might be why I loved it so much, but I really do think that it is just a good book. Written by one of my favorite bloggers, I can’t seem to get enough of hearing about her South African home and culture and seeing the world of mothering and life through her eyes. 


A Gospel Primer for Christians by Milton Vincent
My husband and I both read this book. I found it to be one of those that you could read over and over again because it focuses on the kind of truth we need to have sink in very deep and change us. It’s broken up into tiny little segments, which makes it very easy to read for just a few minutes each day.


Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey
I loved this book. One of my absolute favorites out of the year’s reading. A leprosy specialist talking about the complexities of the human body and then relating that to biblical truths. Such an amazing read! If I had endless money to spend on books I would give a copy to everyone I know.


Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel
I read this one spread out over almost an entire year. Some of it I didn’t care for, but overall I thought it was a helpful read.


A Fortunate Grandchild and Time Remembered by Miss Read
The only thing more thrilling than reading about the fictional lives in Fairacre and Thrush Green is reading about the life of the woman who wrote about these beloved places. I read these two autobiographies back to back and loved them. A very interesting look at life in a time and place much different from my own, and all the childhood experiences that contributed to Miss Read’s writing. 



Family Read-Alouds

 “I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who
think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” – Anna Quindlen



*I have to insert a little note here that I was kind of alarmed when I made my list and realized how short our read-aloud list was this year. Then I slowed down and thought about it and came to two conclusions. One, we read some much longer books than we have taken on in the past. And two, we now have three competent readers in our house, who have (much to my joy) joined their parents in accumulating their own piles of books to read. So of course there is still much reading going on, it just looks a little different now. I do not however plan to give up reading aloud to them ever as long as they’re in our home. Like sharing a meal together, I think it’s one of those special things that should be held onto and made important no matter what the ages of the listeners.


Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill by Maud Hart Lovelace
We are huge fans of Betsy, Tacy and Tib in this house. This is one of those series that I think it’s quite tragic that they get slumped into “girls” stories. Yes they are about girls. But they are about much more than that, and these are some pretty spunky girls, so I can’t imagine a boy being any less entertained by them than our girls have been. We have loved all of the books, but this one in particular hit on some real life principles that were really great. 


Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
A friend told me of remembering this book fondly from her own childhood. Before that I didn’t even know that it was a book, I was only familiar with the movies. Our kids were big fans of the more recent movie version of the story (which is very little like the book). After reading we watched the older movie and found it to be a wonderful representation of the book. The thing I loved about this story is that it is non-fiction. With that comes the need for a small bit of editing here and there, as the authors were very honest in their representation of their father who could lean towards being a bit crass at times. But aside from that it is a beautiful story, full of the ups and downs that real life brings. Laugh out loud humorous much of the time, and at moments heartbreaking. A classic for sure.


The Story Girl  and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
I already told you about dreams coming true and spending the summer with one of my most favorite authors. Everyone in our family (including the man of the house) fell in love with Anne and Marilla and Matthew, and if you have never read Anne of Green Gables I can’t tell you emphatically enough what a priceless treasure you are walking through life without! It is story telling at it’s finest, and again I strongly object to it being limited to only being for girls. A good story is a good story and everyone can learn some beautiful lessons from this one.
The Story Girl, though definitely not an equal with Anne, is also a very enjoyable story. If you have a boy who isn’t interested in trying Anne, you could woo him to love the author with this book because it features a boy as the main character and narrator.  


Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This one has obviously been read many times before, but this time was different. We read this book all together in a single week: the week of caring for the niece and nephew. Which meant that I got the beautiful privilege of introducing my niece to the little girls in the little house in the big woods for the very first time. A gift to treasure always!



Well, that sums it up. My year of reading. The list for this year is already accumulating, but I would love to hear any recommendations you can offer!



12 Days of Enjoying Christmas – Day 12

December 24, 2014



I’ve written at length before about my love of Christmas lights. It’s one of the special things of the season that I am convinced you should never miss out on. Especially because it can be as simple as telling everyone to hop in the car in their pajamas and going for a drive. There’s never a good excuse to miss out on the lights at Christmas time.

But mostly today I want to encourage you to not miss the true light of Christmas.

All these ways I’ve shared to enjoy Christmas are wonderful and fun and I love them all. But as I said at the beginning, they are coming out of something so much bigger. By themselves they are easily tainted.

And the truth is that sometimes any or all of them might not work out.

Sickness, stress, money, busyness, and every other little and big piece of life have the potential to easily disrupt all the fun and celebrating at Christmas time.

But that does not mean we can’t enjoy Christmas.

Because ultimately, the joy under our enjoying is not about any of that stuff, but all about the hope and peace that rests in Christ alone.


So if you’re Christmas season has not gone the way you planned, or if at the last minute all the fun has taken a sudden awful turn…..


If you’re sitting in the tension of a stressful situation, or feeling grumpy instead of jolly, or even struggling through a heavy kind of sorrow that you can’t see any hope of ever finding your way out of….



Light has come. We are free. The joy we speak of in this season is absolutely not a feeling but a truth that rests on a Person who lives and who loves you and who is conqueror over every bit of mess in your life.

That is why no matter how you are feeling, or what you are facing, you can enjoy Christmas. Because it’s all about Jesus, God over all creation in all His majesty and power, being with us. Wherever we may be.

Merry Christmas. 



12 Days of Enjoying Christmas – Day 11

December 23, 2014



One of our most favorite things at Christmas time is somehow recording the memories of the season.

We take an outrageous amount of photos. Throw in some video for good measure.

But it doesn’t end there.


One of the ways we most enjoy Christmas is by setting those memories apart to reflect on later.

I thought I would share this today as a possible “after-Christmas” way to enjoy your Christmas season this year.


We have two different photo albums that are set aside just for Christmas time.

One for formal photos and collages.

And the other for snapshots of favorite moments.

Photos are labeled by year, and it really is one of everybody’s favorite things to sit and linger over during the holidays.


A few years ago we also started a family Christmas journal.

Every year sometime between Christmas and New Year’s, we each sit down and fill in a single page with some of the memories we love best from that Christmas.

Again, such a fun thing to look back through. We think we’ll remember those special moments, but our memories can only hold so much. It’s wonderful to have a place to look and be reminded of this recurring season of celebrating we have shared.

Also helpful if that particular season has carried hard things that we are struggling to see past; we never fail to come up with beautiful things that happened also that we want to write down.

A sort of counting our blessings tradition that has brought much joy.

You should try it!


12 Days of Enjoying Christmas – Day 10



Today’s tip for enjoying Christmas is going to be short and sweet: bake something

I know most of you probably already have. But if you have not, and if you’re avoiding it, I want to encourage you not to.

So I’m flooding you with photos from several years worth of baking. ;)




There is something magical about mixing together some basic ingredients and ending up with something pretty and delicious.

No matter how good that store dessert may be, it’s never going to be as good as something that came from the work of your own two hands.




Even if it’s something as simple as a box of cake mix because you’ve reached the point of overwhelm.

Even something as easy as that is a treat because with it comes the joy that you made it yourself.




The options are endless.

The smell wafting through your house will be one of the greatest gifts you receive during this season.

And it’s one more way, I think, to embrace the idea of sabbath at Christmas.

In general I’m a stickler for avoiding excess sugar. But at Christmas time we just let that go.

The freedom of indulgence for just a few sweet days is well worth it.





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