library day.

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I know I’ve written about books and kids before, but I thought it was time to do it again. Mostly for selfish reasons; few things make me happier than children’s books.

When my kids were very little, we went to the library nearly every week, as much to play with the stuffed animals and puzzles and foam building blocks, as to stock up on books.

Nowadays, I request most of our books online, which my mother-in-law picks up for us. But once a month or so we like to go in person to browse the shelves. I choose lots and lots of picture books, and yesterday was the closest I’ve ever come to my 60-book limit (thankfully the older three have their own library cards!).

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We recently bought a new coffee table, and besides something sturdy we can put our feet up on (or sit on, if you’re certain members of the family), my other non-negotiable was a bottom shelf for library books.

We keep the books strewn across the living room for the first day or so, then the adult books go into a basket, and the big kids take their choices to their bedroom. The picture books stay beneath the coffee table. I’ve found that I’m much more likely to pick up a couple of books to read in a spare 15 minutes when they’re highly visible.

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A word about character books, like Star Wars and Ninjago. Call me a bad mom but I refuse to read these to my kids. Judah will read them to his younger brothers, or he and Amie can read to themselves. I’m sorry. I just can’t. Thankfully thus far no one seems emotionally damaged by it.

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Gabe and Noah may each pick out 4 books from the library. I choose everything else for them — but I’m always thinking about books they’ll really enjoy. Finding those books for all of my kids is a challenge I love.  I’ll include my favorite children’s picture book lists at the bottom of this post. By this time we’ve also discovered many favorite authors which we reread. We have wonderful book displays at the downtown Columbia library where I find other ideas.

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I’m enormously thankful for audiobooks for Amie, who struggles with reading. She’s currently listening to Little Women, and recently has enjoyed the Mary Poppins series, The Five Children and It, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

This allows her to listen to books at her comprehension level, then practice with lower level reading books and not feel discouraged. I allow her to get as many of these books as she wants, because she plows through them quickly (I think she checked out 30 yesterday).

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You may think with someone as obsessed with reading as I am, that I’m determined to raise readers. I’d love to do that, but it’s not something I’d ever want to force on my kids. I want it to be a joy. I just make sure there’s lots of reading material available (and am known to leave random stacks of picture books in various conspicuous places in our house), and that we read together often. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that they see their dad and I enjoying reading our own books. We read in front of them, because I want them to see us take time for ourselves and have hobbies.

I’ve never once given my kids a set amount of time and told them they need to go sit and practice reading. But thus far, they all love books!

If your child struggles to enjoy reading, I’d suggest trying lots of different kinds of books (even nonfiction books about science or wildlife or sports) until you find something that catches their interest. And if reading is just hard for them, audiobooks are a great option. Actually, Judah is a great reader and he still listens to audiobooks about half the time. He enjoys being able to listen to a book and build Legos simultaneously.

When we adopted Gabe and Noah they didn’t have an attention span at all, very limited vocabulary, and hadn’t been read to before. So we read board books for a long time. We still sometimes do because we just don’t want to give our favorites up!

They struggle to pay attention to chapter books yet — although they love short story audiobooks like this one — but that doesn’t bother me. They have the rest of their lives to read chapter books, I’m all for stretching the picture book stage out as long as possible. Actually both Judah and Amie still often drift over to read picture books with us on the couch. I’m pretty sure all of us would benefit from reading good picture books on a regular basis (and C.S. Lewis says that the mark of the best children’s literature is that grown-ups enjoy them too).

If you’re having a lousy day at home and nothing seems to be going right, may I suggest stopping everything to read books with your kids? This practice has never once failed to cheer us up. It’s hard to be in a bad mood while reading The Cat in the Hat, or Arthur’s Loose Tooth or The Penderwicks. If you don’t have kids, may I suggest finding little people to read to? It will make you happy. I love when my cousin babysits for us, becomes she comes armed with a bag of picture books.

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My other favorite thing about Library Day in our house, is that Gabe and Amie set up the living room like a library and play “librarian” for at least an hour.

The public library is a gift. After living without one in India for close to two years, I don’t think I’ll ever take it for granted.

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Our favorite book lists for kids:

Read-Aloud Revival (sign up for email updates to receive their book lists)

Sonlight (this is a homeschool curriculum, but you can look under each grade for booklists, make sure to click on the “What’s Included” tab. Also you can request a free catalog in the mail to see all their booklists in one place)

Simply Charlotte Mason

I don’t know if you’ve seen this on Amazon, but if you search for a book your kids enjoy, you’ll get other recommendations in a similar style. I use this tool for every member of our family!



grilled pizza.

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We haven’t made homemade pizza in months. It’s one of our family favorites’ but a little time-intensive. Last week, David felt inspired to get a couple of books from the library and try his hand at grilled pizza. It was delicious!

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expect to suffer in 2018.

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I know that’s an alarming title for a blog post, but please hear me out.

Typically I write some sort of New Year’s goal post. I’ve been thinking about it all month, taking time to reflect on last year, asking myself what I hope and pray for this new year.

All the while I’ve begun reading daily from Tim and Kathy Keller’s new devotional book on Proverbs: God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. It’s only January 29, but already this book has impacted me.

I stopped short three days ago when I read, “The mark of wisdom is to be ready for suffering.”

The Kellers go so far as to say that if you aren’t expecting to suffer, then you’re not living in reality. But, on the other hand, if you choose to be ready for it, God can use suffering as a tool to grow you in wisdom (Proverbs 3:11-12).

Honestly, I’ve never thought of being prepared to suffer.

I suffered a lot in 2017.

People I love suffered a lot.

And I’ll admit here that many a day my prayer has been, “Lord, give us a break in 2018, okay? Please. Just let this new year bring some relief.”

But suddenly this book is telling me that I’m praying the wrong thing.

I’ve thought a lot about suffering, and the way it surprises me. It always feels like a betrayal by God. I thought He was taking care of me. But He let this thing I really didn’t want to happen happen. It feels like the rug is pulled out and I’m left alone on the floor, face down, tricked somehow.

But I’ve also been reading the Scriptures, and I realize that reality, like the Kellers say, is just the opposite — nowhere does the Bible promise that I won’t suffer. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is full of sinful, suffering people. That’s reality. And Jesus’ words are very clear, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The apostle Paul tells new Christians, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

The problem of my suffering is not God playing some sort of detached, cosmic trick on me. The problem of my suffering is my expectations. No matter what the Bible says or the stories of the saints depict, I expect that I’m unique, that if God really loves me, He’ll protect me from suffering. And also, I want to be the one in control of how I suffer.

Proverbs tells me that that’s foolishness. The fool thinks that she knows what’s best, she’s wise in her own eyes (Prov. 3:7-8).

When my expectations are foolish, then I add to my suffering by being unable to learn anything from it. I also harden my heart toward God. I’ve been down this road aways, and I’m here to tell you that it leads to nothing but darkness and ruination.

I want to choose a different road, the road of wisdom.

So, quite simply, I’ve decided to expect to suffer in 2018.

I don’t mean this in a morbid, glass-is-half-empty way. I mean it in a realistic way. This way I won’t live in fear or waste my energy being let down again when it happens.

And these days it helps wrap my mind around this radical thing to think of suffering as a sort of forced fast.

Fasting is spending a season of time removing something you need or crave from your life in order to pray and let God fill up the void.

And suffering usually comes because God removes something we need or crave from our life.

It’s really, really painful. This helps me understand why so few of us practice fasting. We hate to suffer.

And because we rarely have the courage to fast, or simply because He is infinitely wise and good and just, God gently pries open our white-knuckle hands and removes something for us. Something we did not choose at all. He makes us fast.

He does this because He loves us.

If we’re His children, He’s absolutely committed to our good and His glory, from the day He saves us, until the day we go spend eternity worshiping Him. An eternity where we will never suffer again. Never.

For now, here on earth, there are times that it’s for our good to lose things we love. Sometimes it’s for a season. Sometimes it’s permanently.

Part of my process in this season of my life, through people helping me walk through suffering, is to learn two things:

1. God knows better than I do, and

2. Nothing that happens to me is ever, ever wasted.

Daily, I am learning to believe these two things. Some days are harder than others. But even those hard, dark days are not wasted with Him. Even the ways I sin and doubt Him and lash out at other people in my suffering are not wasted. Even the repentance I learn as a result of my sin is not wasted. He’s that powerful.

I am slowly learning to sit with the void God has allowed in my life, rather than frantically turning to distractions or affirmation or anything at all to make me feel better. I’m learning to sit in the darkness and ask the Lord, “What do You want to do here? What do You want me to pray right now?” I’m learning to ask Him to fill the void He’s made in my life with Himself. That thing He removed hurt so bad because it probably had a higher place in my heart than it should. He knows it would never have really satisfied me in the way I need.

I think I know what I need, but I don’t. What I truly need is Him.

I want Christ to be my greatest treasure. Sometimes He lets me suffer so that I see He’s not my greatest treasure. Sometimes I need to see I’m not as great as I thought I was. I need to be made smaller. Sometimes I need to see the things He is giving me. He always does this with compassion, as a father has compassion on his children.

One last thing: I remember from my Lenten fast last year, that in the beginning it’s easy to be wholly preoccupied with the thing I gave up (in my case it was caffeine. something small and silly), to ruminate over it and long for it. Sometimes I did it so much that I missed the things God was giving me (and in fasting, the whole point is that the best thing God wants to give me is Himself).

That is true in my suffering. My trial is wasted if I allow myself to obsess over the things He’s saying “no” to. I miss what’s right in front of me, the ways He’s faithfully caring for me each day, the people that are pointing me to Him, the things He’s asking me to be responsible for, to turn my attention to.

Here’s an example. I recently lived a season of close to two years when I struggled greatly with social anxiety and panic. I needed counseling and medication and rest. We’re a family who loves to show hospitality, but during those two years we were able to have very few people in our home. We were able to do less ministry together as a family. I had fewer friendships and a lot more empty space on my calendar.

I spent a lot of time in shame, questioning God. How on earth is it effective for His kingdom for a pastor’s wife to suffer with anxiety around people? To be hardly able to have a conversation with someone, much less minister to them? To have to sit next to the back door, hidden, during the church service, instead of up front supporting my husband? I was humiliated and I was angry.

But God used that season. He softened my heart and allowed me to let go of that thing I wanted so much: to do ministry in the way I saw fit, the way that made me feel good about myself. He showed me what was right in front of me: my husband and my children. They needed me. We’d all been through the trauma of adoption together, and each of us needed space and time, in our own separate ways, to heal. God showed me that my service to Him is His to give and His to take away. He shows me where He wants to use me. And that can look different in different seasons. He showed me how perfectly able He was to take care of people without me.

I am coming out of that season now, thanks be to God. We’re having people over again. And you know what?

We love it more for having lost it for those two years. We don’t take it for granted. It doesn’t define us or give us importance or worth in God’s eyes the way it used to. It’s a gift, and who knows, my anxiety might return and He might remove it again for a season. So we’ll enjoy this time while we have it, these people we are getting to know.

Yes, I’ve seen God be faithful in the forced fasting of suffering. I’m closer to Him as a result of it. So I choose to face this new year with hope.

Tim and Kathy Keller say that learning wisdom through God’s discipline will make me “a resilient person who through hard knocks has become poised and resourceful.”

Their devotional book I’m using is one practical tool for the road ahead. It gives me something each day that I can do, here and now, to grow in wisdom, even when I don’t exactly know what this year will be like.

My new prayer for 2018 is, “Lord, let my suffering matter.

Let the little suffering matter, like my washing machine breaking, and the big suffering matter, like waking up daily to the dark cloud of depression.

Let me live in the mystery of not understanding all Your ways. Use the big and small trials of this year to tear down the idols of my heart. Help me learn to give thanks in all things. Let me know my need for You more. Let me be satisfied by You more. Please let this suffering make my heart softer, not harder. Let it help me love people better.

Use my suffering in 2018 to glorify Yourself.”

I choose not to fear trials this year. I choose just to live in this day. God delights in me, right here and right now, and He will use everything that happens this year — the good things and the hard things, to show His love and faithfulness me and my loved ones. I promise that He will do the same for you.



the workshop.

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Four years ago, we had eight pine trees removed from our yard. David planted a garden and built Judah and Amie a magical play house in the corner.

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Less than two years later, Gabe and Noah arrived on the scene to help enjoy it.

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As cute as it’s always looked in our backyard, the playhouse has always been a bit of a sore subject in our family. And by that I mean, No one really played in it. It’s true. David spent hours buying lumber and building and painting this totally unique clubhouse for the kids, and then one day some neighbors gave us their tattered old trampoline, and it’s been the object of everyone’s affection ever since.

Sigh.

Not that I’m complaining. My biggest piece of advice to any mom of boys I meet is: Get a trampoline. It will change your life.

So here we are, in 2018, and David decided it’s time to move on to bigger and better things, namely: a workshop.

He disassembled the playhouse and friends from church were happy to take it off our hands. Then he bought some plans online for $30, and proceeded to begin building his Dream Workshop.

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Here it is thus far. Yes, it’s big.

It took me awhile to get used to a 12×16 structure looming over our yard, but now it seems normal, as normal as anything seems in our ever-evolving yard.

David began building the workship while I reread The First Four Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and we were amazed to discover that the claim shanty Laura and Almanzo and baby Rose moved into was 12×16. Can you imagine?

And you know what’s hilarious?

The kids play in it constantly.

The star of this workshop is going to be the 48-paned window David’s dad found at the Habitat Restore. Actually, he found two: one for himself, and one for David. We’re hoping Steve uses his for a writing shed.

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David’s in the process of deglazing it (yes, that’s probably lead paint on the ground so the kids have had a firm warning). Steve also gifted us this beautiful white door and installed it for us the week after Christmas when David and I were laid up sick.

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David plans to use his workshop to store all of his tools, to do projects (like hopefully build me a bookcase for our bedroom), and probably most of all, keep his gardening operation working. This year he transitioned from using seedlings to starting everything from seed. This means trays of seeds are currently being stored in our house. I am okay with that only on a temporary basis.

The workshop will give him a launching place to garden to his heart’s content.

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Right now, it’s fun to see the kids enjoy it. This is the look I got when asking Gabe and Noah if they’d gotten into Daddy’s tools:

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Their favorite pastime is using the workshop for sports announcing . . .

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It’s a shame they don’t have any personality!

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It’s been a cold January in South Carolina, so everything in our yard looks very brown right now. But one day, the workshop will be painted and the garden thriving and it will be a place of color and butterflies and life.

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new year.

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Happy New Year, dear readers!

The kids and I started our week break from school on December 22, so we’re still enjoying our vacation. It’s been lovely. David, Judah, and I woke up the day after Christmas with fevers and sore throats, which was disappointing, but also nice in a way, because we just rested.

During this break I’ve done a lot of sleeping in, lounging around in sweats, drinking hot tea, and watching movies with my kids. I introduced them to a childhood favorite of mine, Hook, last week, the boys are on a Star Wars kick (they’re watching all the old ones), and we also watched the first and second Nanny McPhee movies, which are so much fun.

This was my favorite December yet with our family. I noticed a huge difference in the kids last month compared with other years. I think in the past, the excitement of Christmas-time manifested itself in lots of big emotions and acting out and general holiday fatigue on my part.

But this year felt different.

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I purposely planned a very low-key holiday season for us, and for the first time, we also followed our school routine right up until Christmas weekend. I realized it helped tremendously not to be part of Classical Conversations, which ends for the semester at Thanksgiving, and always seemed to result in the kids’ mentally checking out after that point–even though we have more school days to finish.

This year we stuck it out through most of December, and the structure helped to pass the time so that everyone could bear all the Christmas-gift-anticipation. And this is the second year we drove to Home Depot the first weekend in December and schlepped home a real, live Christmas tree.

After seeing David put together our artificial tree from the attic that first Christmas together, the little boys never fail to be astonished by the wonder of a real tree that smells like December, needs water, and rains pine needs across the hardwoods. I think Noah loved it more than his Christmas presents, and we had to explain to him that it’s rude to march into someone’s home and ask them whether their Christmas tree is “real or fake!”

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Of course when we brought ours home from the store and screwed the trunk into its stand and pulled out the ornaments, we discovered only one strand of lights was working. Too exhausted to head back out into traffic, we decorated the entire tree with that one strand, and later in the week I picked up a few more from Target. Amie and I proceeded to take every ornament off the tree, rehang the lights, and decorate it again.

It was worth it!

A well-lit Christmas tree is a must.

I found myself enjoying my home and my kids and our lovely, live Christmas tree, and wondering what made the difference.

Having the kids a year older helps. Feeling less busy helps. Also I realized: having some space. 400 sq. ft. more space, to be exact. There was a whole big closet in which to tuck the console table and lamp, and another bathroom, and Judah and Amie weren’t tripping all over one another to make space in their shared room for Christmas presents.

Yes, our addition is a wonderful, wonderful gift.

Other Christmas gift themes this year were Star Wars, board games, Calico Critters, a kids’ cookbook, and lots and lots of Legos. I got cozy Smartwool winter socks and a kerosene lamp, which are both very hygge.

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We enjoyed Christmas day with our family, then celebrated Christmas and Noah’s birthday with the boys’ birth family late in the week, and had a fun time opening more presents, putting together toys, and eating dinner and cake together.

I was still recovering from being sick, and did something I’ve never done: rather than make my child his birthday cinnamon rolls and cupcakes, I took Noah to Publix and let him pick out any box of cereal he wanted for breakfast (chocolate Lucky Charms, in case you wondered), and his own cake (chocolate with chocolate icing).  It was very liberating for me, and Noah didn’t seem to feel one bit let down.

We asked him what he wanted for his birthday, and he said, “A Dark Vader costume.”

So that’s what he got!

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Can you believe our youngest is five? I feel old.

I love five.

Actually, to be super honest, five is the first age I loved with all of my kids. And it just gets better from there, folks. It’s so much fun having older kids! Everyone in our home can now officially take a shower, wipe their own bottom, and buckle themselves into the van.

My work here is done.

Noah’s birthday is on New Year’s Eve, and David performed a wedding ceremony for some friends from church that night.

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It was a beautiful wedding, and I got to spend the evening with friends I haven’t seen in awhile. We laughed a lot and danced until 11:00 (my friends and I, that is, not David, he’s not a dancer. Actually I’m not either, but I pretend to be at weddings), and then headed home and were asleep by midnight. That’s what 35 feels like, friends. I don’t mind it one bit.

Happy 2018!



charleston at christmas.

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Merry Christmas, friends!

Charleston is a two-hour drive away and some friends take their kids every year to see the Christmas decorations. Last week we decided to take a spontaneous day trip to check it out.

Here’s what constitutes a relaxing trip for me: not needing to pack. At all. No lunch. No snacks. Just a pack of wet wipes and a large bottle of water to share. Now that feels spontaneous!

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We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather: it was in the low 70’s and sunny.

We had two plans on the agenda: eat lunch at Xiao Bao Biscuit, our current favorite restaurant in Charleston, and see the Christmas decorations in the Charleston Place hotel.

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I know I’ve mentioned it before, but you guys, this place is amazing. I want to try everything on the menu. But the Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) is a must. We split three for the table, and added a fried rice with fish and avocado, which was delicious. Judah tolerated the spicy-ish Asian food. The other three gobbled it up!

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We left our car by the restaurant, and set out for downtown. The way we prepared our kids for the amount of walking we did was to say, “We always hike as a family — either it’s a forest hike or a city hike. Today we’re doing a city hike!” We walked five miles and the kids were amazing. Hardly a complaint. Noah will be five next week, so we’re ready to start increasing our distance in 2018.

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The winter train village in the Charleston Place hotel is magical. We spent a long time walking around and noticing all the details (the ski lift! The ice-skating rink!)

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The quiet neighborhoods of Charleston never fail to make me happy. I love the landscaping, the window boxes, the little secret gardens tucked away behind iron gates. I truly cannot imagine being responsible for the upkeep on one of these historic homes; so I’m happy to enjoy them as a tourist.

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Notice the holiday fruit arrangement above the door!

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We walked through the market in the center of town and stopped at our favorite candy shop on Market Street for free pecan praline samples. We let the kids each pick a snack from the candy counter (the grown-ups might have chosen a praline too) and then walked to the pier to eat.

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Yes, those are marshmallows on a stick, dipped in white chocolate and sprinkles.

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I love people-watching on the pier because you encounter people from all over the world. The seagulls are pretty great too!

David and I realized during our adventure that this was the first time Gabe and Noah have seen downtown Charleston. Judah and Amie haven’t been in years and hardly remembered it. I’m so glad we waited until now to do it as a family; the kids are at a perfect age to really enjoy it.

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We made it back to our car at 3:30, grabbed a cup of coffee/tea for the road, and made it home by 6:00. A perfect day!

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books, books, books.

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Hi there! I’m overdue for a bookshelf post.

If my last list of book recommendations contained a lot of heavy reading material, I think this one will be more comforting.

When life feels heavy and stressful, I do one of two things:

1. Re-read the Mitford series
2. Read children’s fiction

The lovely thing about great children’s fiction is that while the language is simple, it’s also spectacular and moving. The best writers of children’s fiction know how to wrestle with real life themes in a compassionate way that doesn’t crush readers. They leave us feeling hopeful. So you’ll find a good bit of it dispersed throughout this post. Maybe you’ll even find some Christmas gift ideas! I’ll try to include a note with my favorites.

My Antonia, Willa Cather

I started this classic as a teenager, but never got around to finishing it. I tried again a few months ago and found it breath-taking. Think of it as a grown up Little House on the Prairie. Then, at a used bookshop in Charleston I found Cather’s novel O Pioneers. They’re both lovely, but if you’re going to buy just one, my favorite is My Antonia.

 

Saving Lucas Biggs, David Teague and Marisa de los Santos

I enjoyed this middle-grade time travel book so much. It was a captivating, creative story that I think is appropriate for 10-12 year olds.

 

The Almost Sisters, Joshilyn Jackson

A murder mystery set in the deep south, Jackson’s writing voice is fresh and winsome. I couldn’t put it down!

 

Dear Mr. Henshaw, Beverly Cleary

We’re huge Beverly Cleary fans over here; Judah, Amie and I have portions of the Ramona series committed to memory from listening to the audiobooks over and over. I requested Dear Mr. Henshaw from the library for Judah and me. We both enjoyed it, although Judah’s final pronouncement was, “It’s really sad.” Sad and hopeful too. A good book for walking around in someone else’s shoes.

 

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers, Deborah Heiligman

 

The kids and I are studying Van Gogh’s paintings this semester, and a friend recommended this Young Adult book to me. It’s quite sad, of course, because Vincent Van Gogh’s life was terribly sad. But it brought him to life in the loveliest brush strokes. Heiligman’s prose read like a painting at times. I absolutely loved the book and will have my kids read it one day. You might want to pre-read it before giving it to your teenager due to a couple of themes.

 

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, Jeanne Birdsall

I can’t recommend this novel highly enough. It came in our school curriculum for this year, and was also recommended by multiple friends. Judah, Amie, and I read it together during our beach vacation and were all completely charmed by the Penderwick family and their escapades. We’ve continued with the series, and are currently reading Book 3. I’d recommend it for 8-14-year-olds (especially girls, although Judah thoroughly enjoys the books with us). The audiobooks are great too.

 

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed, Sara Hagerty

In her second book, Sara Hagerty shares her journey of learning to embrace hiddenness with God. I loved it, marked it up, met with a friend to discuss it as we read, and will be rereading it in years to come. I enjoyed her first book, Everything Bitter is Sweet too, but in my opinion this one is even better. This would make a great gift for a young mom.

 

The Green Ember, S.D. Smith

I bought this series for Judah after hearing Sam Smith speak at a conference in the spring. We both love it! His second novel, Ember Falls, is a cliff-hanger, and we’re anxiously awaiting the final book in this trilogy. I’d recommend this series for 8-12 year olds, but think kids that are younger and older would enjoy them too.

 

The Bark of the Bog Owl, Jonathan Rogers

We bought the Wilderking series sight unseen on recommendation from Sarah Mackenzie of Read-Aloud Revival. I’ll admit, I was skeptical when I discovered that it’s a re-telling of the biblical story of King David. But I was astonished at what Jonathan Rogers did with a very familiar story. The characters are creative yet real, the setting is genius, and I laughed out loud many times. Five stars for this series; Judah and I will be reading it again for sure (recommend for 8-12-year-old boys).

 

The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert, Rosaria Butterfield

A friend loaned me this book of English college professor Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion story, and I couldn’t put it down. She’s a wonderful writer, unique, honest, and bold, and it left me thanking God for His power to transform lives. I appreciated her personal journey of adoption as well.

 

To Be Where You Are, Jan Karon

We all knew there would be a Mitford title on the list, right? This is Jan Karon’s latest installment, which a friend sent to me as a gift. Truly I will never, ever get tired of Mitford. My mom summed how I feel about it best when she texted me, Just finished the newest Mitford and I’m sitting down to start it over again.

 

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Now wouldn’t this lovely version of Little Women make a great Christmas gift? It’s only $12.80 on Amazon Prime! Be sure to check out the other classics by Rifle Paper Company too. I loved this series as a girl, but haven’t re-read it since becoming a mother. I have to admit I enjoyed Little Women on a whole different level this time around. I want to be Marmee. I underlined several quotes, but here’s my favorite:

“Yours, mother? Why you are never angry!” and for the moment Jo forgot remorse in surprise.
“I’ve been trying to cure it for forty years and have only succeeded in controlling it. I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo; but I have learned not to show it; and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to learn to do so.”

 

Dark Enough to See the Stars in a Jamestown Sky, Connie Lapallo

The big kids and I are studying early American history, and when I came across this title on Goodreads, I knew I needed to read it to fill in some of the gaps of the stories we’re studying. The book starts a bit slow, but press on: it gets better and better. Lapallo’s account of the settlers of Jamestown colony, through the eyes of one of the women, is powerful and heart-breaking.

 

Acting the Miracle: God’s Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification, Edited by John Piper and David Mathis

This was a great little book of essays about growing in Christ that I read slowly. I found it very practical and encouraging, and plan to re-read it.

 

Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis

I know I mentioned this series back when we had our children’s book club, but I’m including it here too. David and I started reading the Chronicles of Narnia on our honeymoon in Barbados, and so while I associate the stories with growing up in Orlando and reading aloud as a family, they also conjures memories of a white sandy beach and our little island cottage.

This is why I love reading books together. They become apart of our memories, and every time we re-read them, we also get to remember our own story. I enjoyed the novels in a completely new way this time around. C.S. Lewis is one of the best writers I know.

 

The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch

I’m a little disappointed in the title of this little book, simply because I feel like it limits its audience. I think everybody should read this. Andy Crouch has a beautiful way of calling us to wise living in our tech-filled world by giving us a bigger, richer vision of our lives. He shows us a vision of reaching beyond the distracted, entertained life for a life that’s deeply connected with God and with people. His words are honest, inspiring, and practical.

 

Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder

The first time I read the Little House books, I was an eight-year-old living in Barbados and attending international school. My mom must have spoken to my teacher about my love for reading, because I remember being pulled out of class one afternoon and led across a breezeway to a white building that I knew held the dreaded head-mistresses office.

Inside was a surprise: a door to a lovely, wood-floored room, lit only by the brilliant sun flooding across tables. There were books everywhere. The library! I was given a hard-cover copy of Little House on the Prairie. I read that book, loved it instantly, and was allowed to return to the library to check out the rest of the series, one novel at a time.

That’s how I first discovered the Little House books, and I’ve been reading them ever since. Now my daughter is eight years old, and she’s listening to the audiobooks and I get to fall in love with the series all over again.

 

Caroline: Little House Revisited, Sarah Miller

Here’s a fascinating retelling of Laura’s story through the eyes of her mother, Caroline Ingalls. She was a courageous woman. I was always disappointed with her opinion of Native Americans, but appreciate that Sarah Miller portrays her as a real woman, flaws and all. The American pioneer women were certainly not perfect, but they have my utmost respect for their endurance in the face of death, danger, and a world of uncertainty.

 

The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Marta McDowell

Okay last Little House book recommendation, I promise. This would make a great Christmas gift for a teenager or adult. It’s pretty enough to sit on a coffee table and filled with the history and geography of the places Laura Ingalls Wilder lived. The author recommends reading it along with the series, and that’s what I did. It makes the books come alive in a new way.

 

Happy reading!