what we’re reading.


Thank you so much, friends, for your kind words after Sunday’s post. I still have moments of panic when I remember that I published something so personal on the Internet, but I don’t regret sharing this part of my story with you.

On a lighter note, thanks also to those who email and text and tell me that they’re working their way through my Bookshelf recommendations! I love it! And as always, I love hearing your recommendations!

Now, on to the fun stuff. What are we reading in the Gentino house these days?



Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens. After my one classic in 2015, I determined to start this year off right. I love Dickens. But I’ve always avoided Oliver Twist, because, well if you know anything about the story line, you can guess. Little Oliver just breaks my heart. So does Nancy. But it’s good to get back to Dickens.

Seven Women: And The Secret of Their Greatness, Eric Metaxas. I picked up this book because I need more non-fiction in my life, and the title intrigued me, but the jury’s still out on whether I’ll finish it. For some reason I struggle with the biography genre.

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson. My friend Jessica has been after me to read this memoir, which is written entirely in free verse. All I have to say is: swoon. I can’t wait to read it again.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert. This just came in for me at the library and I haven’t started it yet, but it comes recommended by several bloggers I admire. I’ve enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert ever since Eat, Pray, Love, and am very interested in reading her thoughts on the creative process.



Paul and the Gift, John M. G. Barclay

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson



The Green Ember, S.D. Smith


Happy Wednesday!



So I turned thirty-four last weekend!

If you’re a pastor’s wife, Sunday isn’t the luckiest day to have a birthday, but David and our family made the weekend special. ONE of my children also made me a card, and I’ll let you guess which gender the child is!

It feels a bit strange to be thirty-four. To some of you that probably seems old, and to some it’s quite young. But to me . . . I don’t know. I’ve reached my mid-thirties, which means forty is right around the corner. I see crow’s feet in the mirror when I smile, and my feet ache when I wear cheap shoes all day, and this year I discovered my first gray hair.

I don’t mind getting older though. When I was young I thought youth was the prime of life. I thought I’d like to be thirty, because that might mean I’d be married with a kid or two, but beyond that, I figured it was all downhill.

Now I laugh at my younger, foolish self.

Growing older is truly such a blessing. I think maybe the greatest gift it brings is that of perspective.

I’m every day humbled by the realization of how sinful I am, how far I have to go to look like Jesus, but now that I have three and a half decades under my belt, I am also more hopeful because I see how far I’ve come.

I recognize that I’m able, just a tad bit more, to let things go that I used to hold so fiercely to. What people think of my decisions. Being right. My reputation. Seeing people as all-good or all-bad. I’m a little quicker to let go of my pride and confess my sins. The view from thirty-four holds a good deal more gray in it than black-and-white.

At the same time, the truths I believe in are more certain than ever, because I’ve lived them. God is good. He takes care of me. He doesn’t always give me what I want, but He always gives me what I need. He forgives me. He’s making me more like Jesus. He loves the people I love even more than I do. He’s faithful in suffering. He never leaves.

I can bank my life on these promises. And the thing I love is if I feel this way at thirty-four, how much more will I feel it at fifty-four? Sixty-four?


In a small way I’m in one of those suffering seasons right now, the kind of season that desperately needs the perspective that thirty-four (or even older) can bring.

I’ve lived all my adult life with the presence of depression and anxiety. Since being diagnosed in my early twenties, I’ve taken many steps to manage what has at times been a crippling illness. I have spent years in counseling and taking medication and learning how to manage stress and building strong friendships where I can be real.

And I have managed it. I’ve experienced countless victories through this journey.

But the bewildering thing about being thirty-four is that those victories don’t include God taking my depression and anxiety away.

For the most part the anxiety has been generalized, but about a year ago I began having panic attacks in crowds of people. If the first example of a situation you think of is church on Sunday, you’d be right. Yes, I’m a pastor’s wife who suddenly became unable to sit in a church service. I’d be okay somewhere like the mall, but not sitting in a crowded room with people surrounding me on all sides and no quick access to the door.

If the door is actually closed, that’s double trouble.

So I sort of felt myself unraveling as I found myself in situations that were previously okay, and suddenly, here I am, struggling to breathe and shaking and kind of falling apart.

This past year has been a journey in dealing with that specific kind of anxiety, or panic disorder. I already see a psychiatrist, and she has helped adjust the cocktail of medication I take, to allow for this.

In addition to that, I worked so hard all year. I practiced breathing and talked to people who’d been through similar struggles and learned some techniques for dealing with the situations that were the hardest. I went from sitting out in the lobby at Tapp’s on Sunday mornings, to sitting in the very back by the door, to finally sitting up front and to the side.

I never recovered from the discomfort of being in groups, but I was doing it!


Until last month, when it started again. And it felt worse. At church. In the CPC New Members class (which is at our house, by the way). At a life group I visited. And worse of all, going to hang out with a new friend.

It’s totally irrational.

These are all things I want to do. I love our church! I feel safe there. I love our friends. I love hanging out with new friends. That’s the most discouraging thing. Sitting, shaking on the floor in the dining room while David is on the other side of the wall, leading a meeting, thinking, “Who is this person? What happened to me?”

I feel like a stranger to myself. My panic makes me weepy, so not only am I slipping out of the church service, I am starting to cry in front of whoever happens to be in the lobby. I’m not by nature a weepy person. I hate it, even as I experience the kindness of the people around me in it. Their looks, their hugs, their tears are like a blanket against a bitter-cold day.

Unfortunately there is not just the anxiety itself but a bad cycle of lies that follows, that feels heart-breaking. Lies that say I’m a failure, that I’m falling apart, that I’m hindering my husband’s ministry. I feel a crushing weight of expectation, and it is all expectation I put on myself. It’s a lonely place to be.


I am telling you this whole story for a few reasons. One of them is to say that it really is easier to face this kind of trial at thirty-four than it would’ve been, say, ten years ago. I’ve been through crippling anxiety and can’t-get-out-of-bed depression before. I’ve experienced firsthand that the lowest point never lasts, that it does get better, and most of all, that when I’m at my most desperate, God hasn’t left me. I want Him to deliver me, and he always does, even when it doesn’t look like I expected, even when I’m still broken.

Another reason I’m writing this is that I’m fighting the lies. A friend said, “You can’t help the physical reaction of your body, but do not give into the lies that Satan is telling you right now.” So this time around, instead of trying to fight the panic so much, I’m fighting the lies. I’m doing that by saying them out loud to someone near me so they can speak truth to me, I’m doing it by believing that God is with me, even though my anxiety tells me I’m alone, I’m doing it by reading my Bible each day.

I’m also doing it by speaking up more. When people see me crying at church and ask if I’m okay, I tell them the truth, “No, I’m not,” and then I tell them why. I tell my friends and my husband. I write a blog post, which is very scary.

I want so badly to cover this up, to try and preserve my reputation, to be the Strong One ministering to the Weak Ones. But that is a lie. I’m not strong. I’m broken.


I don’t want to close this post on a low note, because there is so much to thank God for, in the midst of this. I work hard at my gratitude list. I thank Him that there truly are many areas of my life in which I can function just fine, even with the cloud lingering at the periphery. I go ahead and do some of the things that are hard for me; others I learn to let go. I recognize that as I tell people about this struggle, they in turn comfort me and so I don’t feel so alone. I let them in.

Thirty-four is both good and also a bit perplexing. Mostly good.

I’m thankful for these years God has given me.

guy day at the congaree.


Dictated by Judah

Last week I got to take the day off school to go on an adventure.

When we were riding, me and Dad talked about the Bible and life. We talked about the book of Mark which I just finished the day before our adventure.

We were riding to our hike that we have never been to. We got a little confused finding it, but soon John texted us and then we knew where to go. When we started our walk, it was leafy and a little downhill until Dad marked a little trail and then we kept walking. There was a little stream that was deep, we walked by it and Dad said, “Always keep the stream on your right.”

We found a little branch and we realized the stream ended here. When we looked around, it looked like there had been a forest fire, but everything felt wet. We ate some cookies while we were taking a little rest, then we went back and kept exploring.


My favorite thing was that I had to lead Dad back to the trail he marked, but we realized the sticks that he put there were gone! Dad didn’t know if that was the right tree. There was a tree that fell down across the river, we crossed it and went back to the other side. I had a little trouble though.

My least favorite part is that we almost got lost, plus we had to go to three different places because some areas were flooded. And then we thought about going home, but Dad said we could stop for lunch. I had pizza and he had salad. Then we went to the library; he picked out two books and I picked out one book, a Lego Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

Then we were done with our adventure. We went home and I took a bath, then I began play time with Amie.

And that was me and Dad’s amazing adventure, just him and me together.


winter 2016 bookshelf.

Happy weekend, friends!

We enjoyed the lightest dusting of snow here in Columbia today, and envy our Pennsylvania family who are out sledding as I write this.

Sorry this bookshelf post has been awhile in coming. I’m currently enjoying rereading Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns, for book club next week. Although I haven’t been reading a whole lot because I’m busy making our family’s 2015 Shutterfly yearbook. This may just be my favorite one yet, and I bet you can guess why!

Judah has blazed through all of the Magic Treehouse and Encyclopedia Brown books. The Chronicles of Narnia is still a bit challenging for him to read just for enjoyment, so I found The Green Ember, by S.D. Smith at the library (have you heard of this book? It came recommended on the Read Aloud Revival podcast). Yesterday we cuddled in the brown chair to read the first chapter and he loved it.

I was hooked too, so I said, “Should we read it together?” and he responded, “No Mom, I think I’d rather read it to myself!” Today he’s on chapter eight. It’s the first time he’s turned down my offer to read to him, and it both stung a teeny-tiny bit, and made me thrilled that he’s building a life of books and words that’s all his own. I remember what a magical time that was for me. My mom did such a good job choosing books, starting them by reading the first chapter aloud to me, then letting me take off.

Anyway. Here are a few book ideas for your winter bookshelf!


Whistling Past the Graveyard, Susan Crandall


This novel is set in 1960’s Mississippi, and is somewhat reminiscent of The Help. I really enjoyed the voice of the protagonist, nine-year-old Starla. Warning: once you start you won’t be able to put it down!


Kira-Kira, The Thing About Luck, Cynthia Kadohata



I mentioned Cynthia Kadohata’s middle grade novel, Half a World Away, in my Adoption Bookshelf post, and liked it so much I was eager to try more of her work. Kira-Kira and The Thing About Luck are both achingly beautiful stories about immigrant families. I highly recommend them!


Lovable Livable Home: How to Add Beauty, Get Organized, and Make Your House Work For You, Sherry and John Petersik


I was excited to get my hands on the Petersik’s latest book, and it didn’t disappoint. In fact, I enjoyed this one even more than their first because they showcased lots of different families living in their homes in creative ways. John and Sherry wrote the popular DIY/Design blog Young House Love, which I followed for years. If you’re interested, they have a fascinating story of their decision to step away from full-time blogging, and you can hear more about it on this interview with Jess Lively.


The Fish Ladder: A Journey Upstream, Katharine Norbury


This is a quiet, beautifully written memoir of grief and healing through travel, set primarily in Wales. I have read so little about that part of Great Britain, and especially enjoyed the author’s reflections on nature and her relationship with her daughter.


My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, Ruth Reichl


David’s aunts got me hooked on Ruth Reichl when we visited Seattle a year and a half ago, and I’ve been a fan ever since. She’s a New Yorker who writes about food in a winsome, down-to-earth way that makes you want to get in the kitchen and cook. Reichl’s latest is part-cookbook, part-memoir about the year after Gourmet magazine, where she was editor-in-chief, closed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it cover to cover. Whether you try any of the recipes or not, it will cause you to slow down and appreciate the simple pleasure of good food. I should mention here that I also recently read her memoir Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, about her job as a NY Times food critic, and that was a fun read too!


Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, Jennifer Worth


Call the Midwife is one of my favorite TV series ever, possibly more beloved than Parks & Rec and Parenthood (although all three shows are so very different I couldn’t bear to choose). I had so much fun binge-watching it this fall, and I’m excited for the final season to come out. Jennifer Worth’s memoir was hard and so good — a glimpse into a world very different than ours. If you enjoyed the show, just a heads up that Worth’s first memoir focuses primarily on her interaction with patients and their stories, rather than the personal lives of the nurses.


Last Hundred Years Trilogy, Jane Smiley


I read this entire trilogy (Some Luck, Early Warning, Golden Age) last year, which follows one family over the course of a century, beginning in 1920. Each chapter of the three novels spans one year. It’s a brilliant plot concept, and a fascinating way to cover American history. Smiley is a simple, lovely writer, but I’m still torn over whether I liked these books. I was disappointed in the bleak outlook on life, and chronic selfishness of many of the characters. I wished there were more people and relationships within the family to love and admire. What I really want is someone to discuss these books with, so if you read them, let me know!


The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos


This is a fun yet surprisingly deep novel. I was instantly pulled in by the voices of the two main characters, step-sisters, Taisy (in her mid-thirties) and Willow (age 16), and enjoyed every page. I’ve never read Marisa de los Santos, but will definitely look for another of her books as a vacation read.


Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


I read Purple Hibiscus in December, and it made it onto my list of top books I read in 2015. I’ve loved Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s writing for several years. Her novels break my heart, but they are breath-taking and important. Purple Hibiscus is written from the perspective of 15-year-old Kambili, daughter of a wealthy Nigerian man who uses religion for both good and evil, and her story has haunted me ever since I finished it.


The Bronte Plot, Dear Mr. Knightley, Katherine Reay



Katherine Reay is a light, fun writer, but my mother-in-law pointed out that her novels are really meant for fans of Victorian literature: Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Bronte sisters. She sprinkles literary references liberally throughout her books. The plots are always a bit far-fetched, but the characters and their stories stick with me and make me smile.

spring semester.


We’re ten days into our spring semester of school! I always try to take some time in between to sit and evaluate our previous semester, and then make a plan for the next one. The last month or so of school dragged, friends. It felt like pulling teeth to get our work finished. There are just so.many.distractions with four kids. Day after day of not feeling like I could finish a complete sentence, much less a reading lesson in one sitting, made me feel frazzled and very tired.

I’m so glad I planned to start school at the beginning of August expressly so that we could have a three-week break at Christmas. It was exactly what I needed, time to clear my head and just be Mom. It was exactly what the kids needed too.

And I was pleasantly surprised that we were all more than ready to start back January 4th. Before we began, I sat and made my list of “What worked and what didn’t work” for our home school, and tweaked a couple of things. But as with any school, it’s still taking us a couple weeks to find our rhythm.

The biggest change we made this semester is to put Amelie and Gabe into swim lessons with Judah. We also switched to the home school swim practice from 8-9:00 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

There are many reasons we love this new schedule. It’s amazing to have two free nights in our week again. It’s fun for the three oldest kids to do an activity together. Judah is swimming in the big pool now, but the smaller lap pool is right next to it, so they can see one another. Amie absolutely loves swim practice so far, and Gabe is warming up to it. On Tuesdays they are the only two kids in their class, and then on Thursdays there are six others, both of which they think is fun.

Initially I was terrified of taking a chunk out of our morning twice a week to do a sport. How on earth will we come home, regroup, and get our school work done? Thankfully the pool is just five minutes up the road at Columbia College. But even then I have to be on top of things to be sitting and starting Judah’s math lesson at 10:00.

But the benefits far outweigh the puzzle of trying to fit everything in. It’s wonderful for the big kids to have the exercise first thing in the morning. Judah’s like a different person already. When we’re home he’s relaxed and happy and complains about his work so much less. And honestly, I’m realizing that even though I’m an introvert, I enjoy that hour sitting with the other moms at the start of my day. Most of them have much older kids and I desperately need their wisdom and perspective. They chuckle as they tell me, “Oh honey, I remember those days, the madness of trying to homeschool with babies and toddlers in the house, the million different distractions.” Wait, they’re even laughing about it (is it funny? is the fact that they’re laughing a good thing?)!

We sip coffee out of our travel mugs and chat and there is a nice stretch of floor for Noah to push his little trucks around. Sometimes he cuddles in my lap with a baggie of Cheerios, sometimes he plays with the two other little boys who are there. In short, as an only child, he’s a breeze.

Even then, these last couple weeks were tricky. We just didn’t get through all of our subjects any of the four week days (We don’t do any work at home on Classical Conversations days). Gabe is so eager for me to do a little work with him daily, but that adds one more kid who needs my attention in the morning. Also, I tried to potty train Noah our first week back to school which was, as I’m sure you could’ve told me, a disaster.


By Friday afternoon my brain hurt from trying to work everything out. As I processed it all (i.e. vented) with David this weekend, I realized the biggest problem is that I’m working and working but the homeschool idea I have in my head just isn’t fitting reality. I’m rushing from kid to kid answering questions and disciplining somebody and pouring juice and getting out the iPad and making snacks and cleaning up the glass of water that was spilled over our history book.

I’m so thankful that David can bring some perspective to bear on my drama. He is in and out of the house during the week, he talks to the kids and sees what they’re doing. He encouraged me that progress is being made; all of our kids are learning and growing.

I began to take a deep breath, and then to sit down once again with my calculator and stack of textbooks to make sure we’re on track to finish our work in the 16 weeks of school we have ahead of us. And we’re in good shape! We really are, even with the craziness. That’s God’s grace, pure and simple, because this sure has been a year of adjustment.

And then as I was catching up on blogs this afternoon, a line from a post jumped out at me: “You probably know to ask yourself, ‘What do I want?’ Here’s a way better question: ‘What are you willing to struggle for?’” (the entire post is worth a read, in my opinion).

This stopped me in my tracks.

I’m approaching this whole home school year wrong. I’m trying to find a way to make it easier, less tiring.

There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. But maybe I’m not actually going to solve the puzzle of how to make it feel smooth and idyllic and stream-lined. Maybe it’s just going to be hard for this season. Maybe it will be full of distractions and I will pray for grace to be faithful and keep turning back to the work over and over and over again. Maybe we will spend more time doing school in the afternoons.

And the question is, is it worth it? Do I want to homeschool my children bad enough to struggle for it?

I know the answer in a heartbeat: Yes. Yes, I do want this. Yes, I want to struggle for it.

It is hard but it’s good.

Why do I keep chasing the illusion that I can be happy without having to struggle?

I’m suddenly realizing how many areas of life I need to apply this principle to. When I’m willing to let go of “easy” and accept “struggle,” I feel inspired. I’m inspired to keep working at homeschooling. I’m inspired to make room in my week for exercise. I’m inspired to make better eating choices so that I feel better and have more energy. I’m inspired to repent to my husband when I snap at him so that we can be closer. I’m inspired to wake up morning after morning and read my Bible and pray so that I can know Jesus better. I’m inspired to keep working at relationships, because the people I love are worth it.

Accepting the struggle is so freeing.

The converse is true too. There are actually things I do not have to struggle for. I don’t have to struggle under the weight of the repeat recording of lies in my head, telling me I’m a bad mom, a bad wife, that I’m failing at bonding and schooling and friendship. I don’t have to give in to paralyzing fear of the future. I don’t have to struggle to be a perfect homeschool mom who takes nature walks and creates Instagram-worth moments of my kids at the table doing artwork with beeswax crayons and 100% recycled paper in the afternoon sunlight. I don’t have to struggle with worry about what people think of me.

I want to struggle for the right things this semester. I want to let the wrong things go.

And so, I’m ready to press on!

five on friday.


Judah. He asked for his very own Bible, and is halfway through the book of Mark. When he finishes, David promised to take him out for pizza so they can discuss it.



Amelie.  When she introduces herself lately, “My name is Amelie, but my parents call me Amie.”



Gabriel. “Mommy, I’m making you a cupcake for your birthday.”



Noah. He had his three-year-old well visit last week! He gained six pounds in the last eight months; he’s lived one fifth of his age and one fifth of his weight with us.



Oliver. Meet our nephew, Oliver. He and Gabe are less than two months apart in age, and are becoming good buddies. Oliver loves Lego Ninjago, following uncle David around the backyard, banana bread, and removing his shirt the moment he sets foot in our house.

2015 book list wrap-up.


Hello fellow readers!

It’s my afternoon out, and after a couple of errands, I’m sitting in a new Columbia coffee shop, The Wired Goat, sipping a lavendar vanilla latte and nibbling on a gluten-free cranberry cookie. Life is good. And I’m ready for the first Bookshelf post of the year. Actually I’ll confess that I’m exactly the sort of nerd who has been looking forward to writing this post all week.

But before giving a list of recommendations for your cozy winter reading, I’ve been doing a little consulting of my 2015 Reading List. This was the first year ever that I kept a running list of all the books I read, and I’m so happy I did. It’s amazing what I would have forgotten otherwise, and honestly I could never have told you how many books I typically read in a year (50? 75?).

In all, I finished 69 books last year. I’m not quite sure how many books I started and didn’t finish, because I didn’t begin noting them until towards the end of the year. I included chapter books I read to my kids for school, of which there were six.

Sixteen titles of my list were re-reads, and if that seems like a lot, remember that I read the entire Mitford series each year, which accounts for about half of the rereads, and some I reread for book club. Actually I find it funny to realize I was reading At Home in Mitford in January, 2015, and also in January 2016.

I won’t list all 69 books for you here since I’ve shared the highlights in my Bookshelf posts this year, which you can find in the blog sidebar, but a few observations from glancing over my list.

1. I stuck mainly to fiction. Just 19 of the books I read were nonfiction, and many of those were adoption-related books.


2. I read classics with Judah and Amie, but the only adult classic I read this year was a reread: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, which is one of my all-time favorite books. Just one classic a year is not okay, because the classics are my passion.

3. My biggest source for reading ideas came from Modern Mrs. Darcy, a blog I love. My second source was browsing the library shelves, and other books came from various blogs and recommendations from friends. Here’s another idea for finding books: type a title you like into Amazon, and you’ll get a list of “Customers who bought this item also bought.” I do that often for children’s picture book ideas too.

4. My primary reasons for leaving books unfinished are a.) Just plain bad writing, and b.) Too much graphic sex/violence/abuse. I’m okay with some language and graphic content if it’s not gratuitous, and if I feel like the larger point of the book is good and worthwhile, but if there are a whole lot of unnecessary scenes, I won’t finish or recommend a book. I just have no patience for that sort of thing when there’s so much excellent writing out there.

5. I noticed in my list this year a strong inclination toward feel-good novels, and truly this is the reason I was able to read 69 books. Light reading always makes for faster reading. What happened to me? In my teens and twenties I loved a dark, brooding, realistic novel or memoir. I adored the Russians! John Steinbeck! Ayn Rand! Alexandra Fuller! After quite a few purges and one cross-country move, many of their books still grace my bookshelves.

I heartily believe that books make us both more compassionate and grateful, that everyone should read about people very different from them, from different backgrounds and with different struggles, and, ideally, then begin interacting in real life with those sorts of people. Not as a project, but as a human being who matters. Perhaps in some cases, even, as a friend. I believe, with Atticus Finch, that walking in another’s shoes makes us more humble and helps us love better.

And yet, look at me now, flirting with the line of “chick lit,” and reading Mitford every year. I will defend Mitford to my dying day, but even I have to admit it’s not quite true-to-life.

What I’ve concluded is this: in my thirties, after a stint in India and adoption and getting to know a whole bunch of different kinds of people, I know of enough sadness in my real life, that sometimes I can hardly bear it in books. I read something and think of someone I know who has been through it — or a similar experience — and I feel crushed under the sorrow of those words.

It’s not right to abandon hard books just because they don’t have neat, happy endings. As a reader, I shouldn’t insulate myself from things that make me uncomfortable. But here I am and I’ve decided not to feel guilty about it. Sometimes I just need books to be a comfort. Sometimes, during our long adoption year, they were an escape.

I still want to be made compassionate by stories. I want to stretch deeper, not just live in a fairy tale of words where everything works out in this lifetime and the girl gets the man of her dreams. I plan to include some hard books in my 2016 list. But I will make sure to space those stories out a bit, temper them with something comforting and happy.

What do you think about all this? How do you stretch yourself to read the hard books without being devastated by them? I’d like to know.

6. I want to undertake some sort of reading challenge in 2016!

I’d like to read more classics, for one. I had the idea of reading the works of the three Bronte sisters. Has anyone done this? Then again those ladies can be terribly dark and depressing, and I’m not sure I can handle that right now (see above point).

Either way, I’m going to accept Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 Reading Challenge. Anyone want to join me? The categories are listed below; I haven’t made my selections for each one yet, but I’ll be sure to include them in my bookshelf posts this year. It’ll be fun!


(Source: Modern Mrs. Darcy)


7. Finally, I leave you with my top three favorite books of 2015:

Peace Like a River, Leif Enger

Half-Broke Horses, Jeanette Walls

Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Next up on the blog, a Winter Bookshelf list for you!

five on friday.


Judah. He hates the feel of a snug helmet, so it’s usually a bit askew. Not safe, I know. We’re working on it.


IMG_2481 (1)

Amelie. She lost her first tooth on Sunday! In our house, you get a toy for the first tooth, and then a dollar for subsequent teeth. Amie’s choice was a new Beanie Boo.



Gabriel. He spent the three-week Christmas break begging to start back to school. I’ve never known a child who craves a routine more.



Noah. This three-year-old refuses to be potty-trained.


IMG_2401 (1)

Mommy. I made homemade tomato soup for the first time last night and it was a hit! So easy, and even David, who is not generally a fan of soup, loved it. I think grilled cheese and tomato soup will be added to the weekly dinner rotation.

making room.

After a year and a half of working hard on our house and yard, we agreed to take 2015 off of major projects. And we did! Well, 2016 couldn’t even begin before David was back to work. Our tree guy and his crew drove a trailer into our yard at 8:30 New Year’s Eve morning, so we celebrated Noah’s third birthday to the tune of saws and crashes and lots of cigarette smoke. The boys were captivated.

Then David and I may or may not have fled left town overnight for a wedding, while his parents stayed with our kids and oversaw the rest of the tree process. Thanks, Steve and Linda!!

If you remember, we’d already removed eight pine trees back in 2014, but before you label us the neighborhood tree killers, please hear me out. Of the three we took out this time around, one was dead and was dangerously close to the play house, one was basically a huge weed, and one (nice big oak, sigh) was smack in the middle of our driveway. We removed the oak to make way for — wait for it — our master bedroom addition!

That’s right, friends! If all goes as planned I will be getting my second bathroom this year! And a new bedroom! And a walk-in closet! Okay, that’s enough exclamation points. But you understand my excitement, right?

We had plans drawn up for a 400 square-foot addition, which will turn our house from a three bedroom/one bathroom into a four bedroom/two bathroom. We’ll grow from 1,500 square feet to 1,900. Judah and Amie will get their own bedrooms! Hooray! We also plan to do some landscaping in the backyard, so it looks like I’ll have some good motivation this year to be outside more.

I know it’s going to be a lot of work and upheaval, between decision-making and noise and a little DIY and a period of time having a hole in our house, but I just think about extra space and a second bathroom and I feel like we can get through anything. I warned our sweet next-door neighbor about the coming craziness and she said, “You can do anything you want to your house as long as you don’t move!” We love our neighbors and hope they still love us after the commotion.

Thank you, Steve and David, for spending your New Year’s Day moving logs to the backyard for firewood. The kids love exploring the wood piles and getting covered in wood-shavings and sap, and Judah and Amie announced, “We’re survivors of the wild!” We ended out New Year’s Face-timing our Pennsylvania family, eating one last chocolate pecan pie, and setting off some fireworks. Perfect. Bring on the house project!