books, books, books.


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!

book club for kids: the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe.


The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, are one of my favorite series ever, so I was happy to be assigned to help lead the book club with two other families from our homeschool group. Our group reads and discusses three books a year together, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is our first for this year.

Families can choose between reading the novel aloud together, having older kids read it to themselves, or listening to the audiobook. We kind of did all three because we read the book before together awhile back. Last month, Judah and I brushed up on the story by reading it alone again, and Amie listened to the audiobook.



I’ve been sick with a virus-turned-sinus-infection for over two weeks, which made school patchy. For three days I lost my voice altogether, so we did some Narnia movie marathons, both with the new version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the old BBC versions. I took the opportunity of laying in bed a lot and re-reading the whole Narnia series, and it was delightful.

Thankfully I was on the mend in time for Book Club and fully immersed in the world of Narnia!




One of the joys of having older kids is feeling like I have energy to be creative again.

Last year I helped with the book club for Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers, by Ralph Moody. That was so much fun, but it also felt a bit stressful to plan and prepare for it. I’m realizing part of it was that I’d never done anything like it before and probably had way too many expectations on myself! Ah well. We all had a wonderful time just the same.

Still, it’s amazing what less than a year can do.

It’s not just that I’m more rested now that my kids are becoming independent; it’s that they’re old enough to help with ideas and the work. Also our homeschool group has grown this year so that three moms lead a book club together, rather than two, and that makes such a difference.

We were busy/sick this time around, so while the moms would’ve preferred a coffee date, we did our main planning over email, and read the ideas to our kids to let them chime in.



Here’s our big secret: in order to have a successful Book Club, it does not take being a Pinterest mom (Kelly, Beth, and I would be the first to tell you we’re not), and it doesn’t even take homeschooling your kids;

The only magic ingredient is enthusiasm.

It’s true! It’s amazing the wonder that overtakes a child when he or she sees that you dive in and enjoy something creative — especially something you can share with them.

When Judah read over our idea list he was amazed and impressed; simply because grown ups had taken time out of their schedule to be creative and share ideas together about a children’s book. His request was everyone dress up, including the moms. Many of us did! And those who didn’t want to dress up, didn’t, and that was just fine!

Our hope for all Book Clubs is that everyone has fun and no one feels pressure.



I’d like to say here that birthday parties for my kids have always stressed me out. Always. When I imagine a theme and decorations and party favors I feel this black cloud settle over me. I know it sounds terrible, but in my head it’s a show I have to put on to impress people. So typically my response to the black cloud is to rebel and not give my kids traditional birthday parties.

I know, it’s terrible. All you moms who plan some pretty awesome parties: you have my admiration.

But Book Club feels different to me. It makes me happy to build a celebration around a book; and there really aren’t expectations for Book Clubs. Instead of an event I put on to entertain kids, we love inviting the kids to contribute and have fun with each other.



To keep myself from getting stressed out, I weighed all my childrens’ ideas (and there were a lot of them) with the question, “What’s your plan for carrying that out? Is that something you can do yourself? What do you need from me?” Of course I did a lot of the work, but I told them my main priorities and asked them what theirs were and what they could contribute, and we settled somewhere in the middle.

We worked as a team and it was so fun. Judah and Amie cleaned both bathrooms on Thursday. The four kids and I made a His House run (our favorite thrift store) to find costumes — and I told them ahead of time that if we couldn’t find it at that one store, we’d make do. David pitched in by cutting cardboard shields and designing Gabe’s Aslan mask. Judah decorated the wardrobe door. And of course our friends came early Friday to help decorate and make tea and cheese sandwiches.

We sent out an email ahead of time letting other families know the schedule, and giving a list of items people can bring (like food, paper goods, markers, and picnic blankets).

During Book Club, the non-hosting moms pitch in and help as needed with crafts and food and watching the toddlers.



And so, on Friday morning, we turned down the lights, lit candles, and played the soundtrack from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe movie. We had a cool, overcast day that seemed to fit perfectly.

If you’re interested, here’s our schedule:

10:00: Arrive and hang coats

10:15-10:45: Tea and scones with Mr. Tumnus, Kelly leads book discussion (kids under 6 play outside)

10:45-11 White Witch freeze tag

11:00-11:30 Decorate crowns and shields

11:30 Lunch: Beaver’s feast (British cheese sandwiches, tater tots, orange marmalade sticky buns)

12:00 Taste Turkish delight! And chocolate, of course

12:00 Free play, clean up, get ready to go home

1:00 pm Take a nap! 🙂


It was such a special memory; on Saturday, Amie woke up and said, “Mom, I just wish today was Book Club again!”

My goal is to document all three of our book clubs this year for the blog. If you want a peek into one of last year’s, see it here.


Left to right, Mrs. McReady, Edmund, the White Witch, Tumnus the Faun, and Aslan

summer 2017 bookshelf.


Happy August, my friends!

How are you doing?

Thanks for your patience with me and the blog. How is it already August and I haven’t written you a summer book post? Sigh.

The good news is that even if I haven’t been writing about books, I’ve been reading them! So I have quite a few to share with you today. I hope there’s something in here for everyone. There are others I read but haven’t included in this post because I value your time (you can find me on Goodreads for a complete list). These are some of my favorites. As always, I invite your book recommendations!

First I need to thank my friend Hannah: last week she sent a group email to some friends asking for book suggestions. The first friend “replied all” with her ideas, and others of us followed suit. So fun! I don’t know her friends but came away with some great ideas for fall reads. You should try the same thing sometime. Thank you, Hannah!

And now, here we go:

Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens

You may or may not remember that I received a lovely hardcover edition of Little Dorrit for my birthday. I’ve read most of Dickens’ works; he’s my very favorite classic author. There are a few of his novels that I return to again and again, and every time I discover new treasures.

Little Dorrit took some commitment to get through. It is 826 pages long and the plot moves quite slowly. It’s not my favorite of his books, but was well worth my time. I just love that Amy Dorrit. And Arthur Clennam is pretty great too. If you’re looking for a Dickens novel to start with, try Great Expectations. But if you’re willing to make a bigger commitment, length-wise, then read David Copperfield. I know you’re tired of me talking about Charles Dickens so I’ll stop. Bleak House is my absolute favorite.


The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

If you read the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, you’ll probably notice that several titles in this post come from her recommendations. This is a quiet, beautiful, terribly sad memoir of a family who survived the Hmong genocide in Laos and immigrated to the U.S. I wish I could say that it has a happy ending. In some ways it does, but in others I felt more deeply disturbed than ever. Life for many, many immigrants to our country is not like ours. They work long hours in factory jobs and still hardly make ends meet. They’re often the victims of racial and economic prejudice. I honestly don’t know the solution except to try and befriend immigrants whenever I can. Please read this important book.


Own Your Life: How to Grow a Legacy of Faith, Love, and Spiritual Influence, Sally Clarkson

This is my favorite Sally Clarkson book; maybe it just came at the right time. It spoke to several issues I was struggling with in life and gave me clarity. This book will challenge and encourage your faith. It will give you a warm, firm nudge along the path of living a life of purpose.


The Wingfeather Saga, Andrew Peterson

My mom and brother Danny have been begging me to read this series for years. I can’t tell you how many times I tried On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and just couldn’t get into it (sorry, you two). Well sometimes it takes your kid to give you the nudge you need. I finally promised Judah to read one of his favorite series ever, and to take him on a date to Barnes and Noble afterward to talk about it.

If you’ve struggled to really enjoy this series, I urge you to press on! I’m really not a fantasy person, so I thought the first book was just okay. About halfway through the second book I started to see where the plot was going, and from then on I was hooked. By book four, The Warden and the Wolf King, I was blown away by the depth of character, the wisdom, and creativity in these stories.

Andrew Peterson has long been one of my favorite musicians, but I discovered this year that he’s an extremely gifted writer. What made reading these books even more fun is that in the midst of them I got to see him speak in Greenville about his writing process. I’m adding the Wingfeather Saga to my all-time favorite series list.


Love Walked In, Maria de los Santos

Okay a break from the heavy stuff. Maria de los Santos is a lovely writer. I also enjoyed Falling Together, and will be picking up her YA novel Saving Lucas Biggs next. Her books are light with characters you cheer for and satisfying endings. Aren’t we all grateful for books like that? Perfect for your beach vacation.


Jane of Austin, Hillary Manton Lodge

While we’re on the subject of light books, Jane in Austin is a very cute modern day adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Predictable and a little forced sometimes, but I still enjoyed it.


That Distant Land, Port William books, Wendell Berry

This summer I re-read almost every single one of Wendell Berry’s Port William novels. His stories are profound, wise, and thought-provoking. Truly, if I wrote fiction, I’d most want to read like Wendell Berry. He has a definite agenda in his writing, but it doesn’t detract from the characters he builds around the fictional town of Port William. They’re the kind of people I miss when I stop reading about them. I read That Distant Land for the first time, and bought a few more used because our library doesn’t carry them: Remembering, Andy Catlett, and A World Lost. Judah looked at our bookshelf and said, “Mom. How many Wendell Berry books do you really need?” Lots and lots, Judah. Lots and lots.

These novels aren’t part of a series. Any one of them can stand alone, and you can read them in any order. Start with Hannah Coulter if you like. Or Jayber Crow. Those are the two most beloved. This is a series I return to again and again.


Lucky Boy

I’m still kind of reeling from this b0ok, which I literally could not put down. Household chores definitely slipped while I devoured it, and I’d sure like someone to discuss it with because I’m still processing. In a nutshell, it’s the story of an illegal immigrant to the U.S. from Mexico, and what happens to her and the child she gives birth to in America. I’ll give a caveat: this book has some hard subject matter. It was painful to read. But I absolutely loved the compassionate way the author tackled some enormous issues like immigration, infertility, foster-care and adoption. It’s one that’ll stay with you.


Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him, Sally Clarkson

Another non-fiction title from Sally Clarkson, this time with her son Nathan. I’m so grateful for this book. As a teenager, Nathan was diagnosed with a wide array of disorders, the most pronounced being Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The author and her son write honestly about their life together with his unique challenges. It was — and still is — hard and messy. But this is a book of hope and victory and God’s presence in the midst of ongoing suffering. I highly recommend it if you have an “outside-the-box” kid, or even if you don’t. Chances are you know a family like the Clarksons, and this book will help you understand and love them better.


The Story Hour, Thrity Umrigar

A story about the two most unlikely of friends: an Indian woman in a desperate state of depression, and her therapist. Sometimes I struggle with stories written from more than one point of view; it’s hard to pull them off well in my opinion. But Umrigar manages it beautifully. You feel hurt, anger, hope, and gladness for both of these women.


The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See

This is one of my favorites from today’s list. I just really, really enjoyed this story. Thanks to my friend Tressa for the recommendation; she told me, “I know you’ll love it,” and she was right! Isn’t it nice to have book-friends who know you well?

You’ll see a definite theme in my summer reading of immigrant stories, many of which I found on this list. They’ve given me so much to think about lately. And some very intense dreams (David said, “Whoa, you may need to lighten up your book choices for a bit”).

But mostly I see how very much there is to feel grateful for. I don’t like the entitled mentality I slip into far too easily: thinking I somehow deserve for my life to be easy and smooth. Instead of complaining about things that just don’t matter, I want to open my eyes and find people around me — people who are can be “invisible” — for whom life is not easy and smooth. I want to do something small to make them un-invisible. To make them feel welcome here. Reading books won’t change the world. But it can be an awakening.



a review of my first bullet journal.


Friday morning David took the kids on some errands and I spent a happy (quiet!) hour at the dining table starting my new bullet journal.

I did it! I finished my first bullet journal in its entirety!

I didn’t lose steam and shelve the thing halfway through the year as I’ve done with so many day-planners. I got my money’s worth!

Sorry. I read somewhere that exclamation points should be used very sparingly by blog-writers, and clearly I’ve broken that rule.

But I’m just really excited report that this system works for me

The bullet journal I use has 249 pages, and I used it for 7 months. I know, that’s pretty quick. My mother-in-law expects hers to last for an entire year, and David, who has the smallest handwriting on the face of the earth (says the person who painstakingly read his love letters in college), thinks his bullet journal will last 18 months.

All three of us use the same brand, which you can find here on Amazon, or, for a little more fun, here at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

We like it because the pages are already numbered and the dotted graph paper is great for ruling your monthly calendar. I also like the customizable label stickers.

I purchased my newest bullet journal from Modern Mrs. Darcy, because I love her blog and podcast so much, I want to support her work.


I posted about beginning to bullet journal back in January, so I’ll try not to repeat myself. All of the things I loved about it back then are true today. This post will be full of boring photos, but it’s the only way I know to show you what works for me.

Here’s a couple of new things I learned as I finished up my first notebook:

1. I don’t really track books I read in my bullet journal.

Does that surprise you? It does me. I tried a few different times, but I just don’t keep up with it.

I use the Goodreads website very faithfully now to track what I read, and it works great for me. Typically if I’m out and about and see a book I’d like to try, I’ll snap a photo of it with my phone. Every so often someone will mention a book in conversation and then I’ll jot it down there.


2. I enjoy the process of migrating tasks and setting up my monthly spread.

It takes a little more time than a ready-made planner, but it keeps my to-do list before me and let’s me purge things that have been finished or canceled. At the end of each month, I’ll pick a few quiet moments and sit at the dining table with a cup of hot tea and a ruler. I find it very soothing to draw up a new monthly spread and add events and tasks. Truly this takes no more than 30 minutes (well, unless you have a half dozen distractions).

I do not draw a cute little “migrate” arrow next to unfinished tasks unless I’ve literally re-written it for the next day. The act of writing it again helps me decide how important this task is, and whether it deserves a little star for “priority.”

Ok here’s a quick run down of my signifiers:

A triangle is an event; when the event is over I color in the arrow (yes, apparently dinner is an event in our house; I write what’s for dinner first thing under the date because my whole day feels smoother that way)

A dot is a task; I “x” through the dot when the task is completed

Side arrows mean “migrate” (as in, move the task to the following day or week)

Hearts are for fun memories

Stars are priority tasks

Pretty simple, right? You can really use whatever symbols you want.

3. Speaking of which, I like my bullet journal simple.

At the beginning I pinned so many adorable page spreads to a Pinterest board. I love people who doodle and turn even their to-do list into a work of art. I tried, I really did, but I am not one of those people. And I’m at peace with that. I started out checking the weather each morning and writing it in next do the date, but dropped that habit months ago.

As you can see from the photos, my pages are very plain-Jane. The plainer, the more likely I am to keep up with them. It’s just what works for me.

The genius is in the lists.

The genius is also in keeping my bullet journal close at hand (laying open on a bookcase at home during the day, in my bag when I go out), so that anything that pops into my head can be written down.

Years ago, a counselor actually recommended this habit of keeping a notebook with me (even at my bedside) since I struggle with anxiety. Little did she know that the bullet journal craze was about to sweep the nation!


4. I still love planning out my week by folding in a center page.

At the top is the dinner schedule, then underneath I began writing a “To do this week” list, which works well. I also write out a daily list, but I like picking and choosing from my weekly list. I found that it keeps me from feeling overwhelmed by tasks and needing to migrating unfinished tasks as often.

As you can see from the photo above, the back half of that center page was my grocery list, which I simply tear out with a straight edge and take the the store. I love this system.

Here’s a novel idea: when you’re waiting in line or have a few free minutes, instead of pulling out your phone, pull out your bullet journal! In this way I often have a head start on the grocery list and next week’s dinner ideas, which eases stress.

5. I don’t do homeschool scheduling or planning in my bullet journal.

This is something else I really tried. I looked up several blog posts and tried to copy other people’s systems, but it didn’t work. It felt too jumbled.

Now, I do keep running homeschool To-do list there, and will jot down ideas that pop into my head. But when it comes to actually planning out our days or record-keeping, I do those separately. I like a larger sheet of paper for homeschool brain-storming (like 8.5 x 11). Plus, as a friend commented, “I’m not sure I want our homeschool curriculum plans that entwined with my daily life.” I wholly agree.

6. I use very few running lists; I find that I didn’t really keep up with them.

Rather, I focus on my monthly and daily lists and when I write down important information (such as swim meet details), I add the page number that information occurs on to my Index in the front for easy reference. If I created an entire separate page for “Swim meets” it would probably mostly go to waste, especially since each meet information is quite different.

And there’s something very organic and “full of life” about scribbling sermon notes and book quotes and recipes under that day’s date. It makes the book more fun to read back over.

Does that make sense?


I guess something would warrant its own separate page if you have lots of information right from the get-go.

Want to know the few lists I did start in my brand new bullet journal?

– Friends we want to hang out/have over with this summer

– Things I need to do to be ready to start our new school year

– Blog post ideas

– And after all I just said, I simply couldn’t resist creating a new Book Recommendations list. It’s just nice to have.


7. Finally, I extended my Future Log to 12 months over 4 pages.

In my first bullet journal it was 6 months, and when I learned of a date beyond, like a dentist appointment, I was always crunching it into the corner. I do not stress about writing events in order in my Future Log, it’s more like a scratch box to add anything that will happen in that month. It’s always a bit messy. I’ll make it look all nice and organized when I sit with my monthly spread.


And that’s that!

It’s not a perfect system, of course. I still forget things.

But it’s the best system I’ve found for reducing how much I forget, for feeling organized, and for clearing the clutter from my head. I love knowing that pages aren’t going to waste.

I love the way it tracks our life.

David laughs because a couple of disputes as to when events occurred were solved by consulting my bullet journal. He says, “The bullet journal never lies.”

All of last December’s Christmas plans and activities and our baby chicks and our whole house addition process are encapsulated in my first now-battered notebook. It’s gratifying to skim back through and remember what we did and see how much we’ve accomplished.


lessons from anne.

Hello there, friends!

Forgive me for being MIA. Quite honestly, I haven’t had the energy for blogging. But I miss you all! I plan to give you a nice Spring Bookshelf post soon, but for now I thought I’d write about what I’m currently finishing up: the Anne of Green Gables series.

I was poking around for comfort books to read, and right around that time my Mom and I watched the movie Anne of Green Gables with Judah and Amelie for their first time. They adored it! Amelie said, “Oh Mom, I just love Anne. She has the best imagination, doesn’t she!?” And Amelie has had a “window friend” ever since, which is, now that I think of it, truly what I always hoped for in a daughter.

So I decided to read back through the series of books. I haven’t read them beginning to end since I first got married, and I was surprised at how much I’d forgotten. Now, I love the Anne movies — at least the original Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Green Gables, The Sequel — after that I stopped watching them.

But I’m reminded that if you’ve only watched the movies and haven’t read the books, you’ve missed out on so much! The series is full of sparkle and insight that the movies just can’t capture. Growing up I enjoyed the books for their stories and romances, but reading them again as a 35-year-old has me struck with just how profound L.M. Montgomery’s writing is. Old-fashioned it may be, but the true lessons I’ve gleaned from Anne this time around are timeless.

Here are a few I’ve been mulling over:

1. Be a lover of nature

From the very first moment we meet Anne, on the carriage ride with Matthew Cuthbert to Green Gables, she’s exulting over nature. And she never stops. I love the way Anne has an actual relationship with flowers and trees and brooks and meadows. She notices them. She enjoys them as if they’re friends.

As a little girl she builds imaginary playhouses with Diana and names her favorite spots, as a college student, she goes for long walks, and as a busy mother of six, she gardens. Her enthusiasm for the great outdoors is so genuine and contagious, that her children grow up loving it too.

Anne makes me want to get outside, open my eyes, and see the things around me — not in order to make a nature lesson for my kids, but just for the sheer pleasure of it.


2. Never lose your imagination

One of the things that makes Anne so beloved is that she’s no stranger to adversity. Orphaned as a baby, she lived in and out of the orphanage and foster care until age eleven. It seems that one of the gifts that saved Anne during those heart-breaking years was her imagination.

She had imaginary friends. She loved poems and stories. She spun stories about people, or pretended that life could be different than what it was. And don’t we love her for it?  Her imagination was a wonderful comfort and joy to her, both as an orphan, and later as an adopted daughter.

And as a grown up too! One of my favorite conversations Anne has with her children ends with her saying to her daughter, with the wisdom of someone who has lived and knows, “An imagination is a wonderful thing to have . . . but like every gift we must possess it and not let it possess us . . . you must learn to keep on this side of the borderline between the real and the unreal. Then the power to escape at will into a beautiful world of your own will help you amazingly through the hard places of life.”


3. Determine to see the best in people and in life

This is Anne’s second gift that allowed her to live a difficult life without becoming consumed by despair and resentment. There’s a way to read Anne’s story in two narratives: one of her seeing the best in people, and one of her fearing the worst. I found myself reflecting back over the books and thinking of the things she could have chosen to feel about her life.

Even after she found a home, Matthew and Marilla certainly weren’t always ideal caregivers. Marilla could be gruff and strict. Matthew was shy and quirky. They didn’t have a lot of money. And Anne always knew she wasn’t pretty — at least not in the way other girls were. There were hard seasons for her and losses and people that were unkind, and she married a doctor who worked incredibly long hours.

But from the very beginning she had this amazing strength of character that said, “I choose to find the best.”

Because of that, Anne’s life turns out very, very differently from the way it might’ve (you can contrast her to Katherine Brooke, for instance). It isn’t trouble-free, but it is rich in the best of ways: with people and with gratitude.


4. Stay young at heart

I love the Meredith children’s speculation about grown-up Anne . . .

“They say she isn’t like other people,” said Jerry.

“Mrs. Elliott says that is because she never really grew up,” said Faith.

“She’s taller than Mrs. Elliott.”

“Yes, yes, but it is inside — Mrs. Elliott says Mrs. Blythe just stayed a little girl inside.

I love Anne’s sense of wonder throughout life. I love her imagination. I love that her growing in life responsibilities and wisdom doesn’t come at the expense of her child-likeness.

It makes her a delightful friend and wife, and a wonderful mother. My favorite thing that Anne’s children say about her is that: “Mummy understands.” It doesn’t keep her from setting rules and disciplining and keeping house and sometimes doing things for herself that she enjoys doing.  She never tries to be her kids’ best friend. But it means she can put herself into their shoes and truly remember what it felt like to be a child.

They love they way she listens to them. They love that she doesn’t laugh and make light of their funny sayings. They love that she takes their dreams seriously. They feel accepted by her, exactly the way they are.


5. Embrace a simple life

Here’s something that just astounded me on this most recent reading through the books — something I’ve forgotten from years of re-watching the Anne movies and forgetting how the story was changed. Do you know that in the original story, Anne never gets a book published?

I was so certain that was a fact in the movies that I looked avidly for it, but couldn’t find it!

When she graduated from Redmond College, Anne was full of promise. She was smart. She was popular. She’d had several small pieces published in magazines and had lots and lots of potential to do great things.

And she chose the other path.

She settled down. She got married and had a bunch of kids and kept house and reflected that there was no time any more to really write in the way she’d once dreamed of doing.

That is my favorite little hidden gem.

Does Anne ever feel a pang thinking of the “what might have beens”? Yes, probably. But she is happy with the simple life she chose. She keeps learning and growing within the limits of her life. She never ends up needing to prove anything to herself or the world in order to feel joy.

She is content.

She knows that people matter more than success.

This, more than so many things, is what I long to teach my children. Yes, I want to encourage their dreams. Yes, I want them to be passionate and inspired and work hard and have great opportunities. But most of all, I want them to see that success does not always equal what a lot of the world says it does. I want them to see that there is great value in a simple life. And no matter what form it takes, success never, ever makes you happy.

Oh, Anne, thank you for being so delightful and for teaching us so many things!








winter bookshelf for the kids (and kids-at-heart).


Friends!! I’m so sorry this took me forever, clearly I overestimated my ability to hammer it out really quick.

I hope it’s worth the wait.

I had so much fun writing this post. Children’s books are an unending source of delight to me, and the most amazing thing is how many wonderful books I’m discovering these days that I never knew existed. I read middle grade and young adult fiction to myself for fun (books my kids may not be ready for yet), but when I find a new picture or children’s book title I like to wait to discover it with them for the first time.

C.S. Lewis said that the mark of a good children’s book is that grown-ups enjoy it too, and I whole-heartedly agree with him.

This may be controversial, but I’ll just go ahead and say it: I let my kids check character books out of the library (like Tinker Bell, Star Wars, Lego Ninjago), but I don’t read them aloud to them. They can look at the pictures, ask a sibling to read it to them, or wait ’til they can read it themselves. By now they know the rule and now don’t even ask me to anymore.

I want to spend the energy I have reading really good, well-written books to my kiddos, but I also want reading to be delightful and fun for all of us.

So because of that, I also don’t give my kids a hard time if they don’t love a book that I love. Like, for some reason, they just haven’t been fans of Robert McCloskey’s picture books, like Make Way For Ducklings, which are on every classic children’s book list I’ve ever seen. But what can I do? I try introduce lots of great books to them, and give them space to form their own opinions. If they don’t like something I’ve been known to wait several months or a year and just try it again.

My current favorite sources for kids’ book ideas are Read-Aloud Revival and Sonlight (full credit to Sonlight for helping me discover most of the chapter books on today’s list).

Here we go!

Picture books

When it comes to picture books, I’ll typically settle on an author we like and work my way through their books, getting a couple at a time. Often this involves typing the author’s name into Google to see what all they’ve written, then requesting books from the library, but sometimes I’ll just find the author at the library and flip through titles there.

The following are tried-and-true authors that ALL my kids enjoy (and me too!); they are books we have read and reread and reread again.

I’d also like to point out that this list could provide gift ideas if you want it to (see how versatile it is!?). If we’re invited to a child’s birthday party I ALWAYS give books. They’re fun for baby showers too! I still remember books that people gave us when Judah was born. Do the recipient a favor, pretty please, and write the date and a message inside. It’s such a fun treat for them to discover when they learn to read for themselves.

Sandra Boynton

Thank you to our family: Pat, Cathy, and Annie for getting us hooked on Sandra Boynton when Judah was a toddler! These are family favorite board books and all these years later, we own most of them and still read them together. Blue Hat, Green Hat is the book that all four kids delightedly learned to “read” first, and it’s their favorite. We’ve also completely memorized Pajama Time! and Hey! Wake Up! Please just do yourself a favor and read them all.


Mo Willems

If you are down and need a pick-me-up, look no further than Elephant and Piggie. Their friendship reminds us that life is sweet and should not be taken too seriously, and that laughter is the best medicine. We own several of them but also always have one in our stack out from the library. They’re Gabe’s current favorites, and I tell him that Waiting Is Not Easy is the book we read over and over to comfort ourselves when we were waiting for him and Noah to come into our lives. It still makes me cry to this day (and is a great gift for any adoptive parent).

The Knuffle Bunny series by Mo Willems is a little lesser known but just as brilliant as Elephant and Piggie. These three books are ones the grown-ups especially love.

Finally, City Dog, Country Frog, is a hidden Mo Willems gem in my opinion. It’s a little more serious than his other books, but a beautiful, touching story.


Shirley Hughes

I stumbled upon Shirley Hughes on a website once, and couldn’t believe we’d never heard of this lovely English author! You’ll enjoy her artwork just as much as her writing. We’ve almost completely worked our way through her books, and there’s lots of them (don’t you just love prolific authors?). Start with the Alfie and Annie Rose series. The Tales of Trotter Street  series is a favorite of ours too.


Jonathan Bean

I discovered Jonathan Bean on a Read-Aloud Revival podcast episode and love, love his books and illustrations. I’ve been buying them over time because they’re the kind of books I want to share with my grandkids one day. His stories Building Our House and This Is My Home, This Is My School, are from his childhood (he includes family photographs in the back!). It’s so fun for our kids to have a picture book that’s about a homeschooling family. We love Big Snow and At Night too.


Jane O’Connor

These are hands-down Amie’s favorite books. She never gets tired of them, and heads straight for the Fancy Nancy books when we arrive at the library. I enjoy them because Nancy is, well, fancy, and her mom is plain, and somehow they find ways to meet in the middle. Sounds like another mother-daughter relationship I know of!


Rosemary Wells

Rosemary Wells is so fun! Yoko is story about a cat who brings sushi to school for lunch, and her classmates’ response. We have Noisy Nora in our stack now, and the Max books are sweet too.


Kevin Henkes

Our favorite is A Weekend With Wendell. We also love Owen, and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. I’ve never met a Kevin Henkes book I didn’t enjoy! But they check out like hot potatoes in our library, so I usually have to get online and request them.


Henry and Pawl and the Round Yellow Ball, Mary GrandPre, Tom Casmer

This isn’t a series but is a sweet story of a boy who wants to be an artist. It was given to us when Judah was born and has been a favorite for a long time (Which delightful person gave this to us!? How I wish I could remember. If it was you, please speak up! See, there’s a good reason for you to write a note in the books you gift). I think I read it twice a day to Judah for a good long stretch. It has the added delight for him now of being written by the illustrator of the Harry Potter series.


Jaqueline Woodson

Jaqueline Woodson’s children’s books are thoughtful and compassionate.  Her stories touch on race, poverty, incarceration, and foster care in age-appropriate ways. I first found this book after our adoption and it helped me understand what my boys were feeling just a little better.


Chapter books

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

This is aching yet heart-warming story about a young boy with a facial deformity named August, and his transition from being homeschooled to attending middle school. It’s a beautiful example of the power of story to take us outside ourselves and allow us to walk in other people’s shoes. I don’t typically like books written from multiple points of view, but the effect was powerful in this case. Everyone can find themselves in the pages of this novel, which I’d say is for older elementary students or middle schoolers (and high schoolers! and grown ups!). I plan to have my kids read it in fourth or fifth grade, and I look forward to discussing it with them.


The Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson

This story about a homeless family and the stranger they meet takes place in Paris, and my kids immediately recognized the illustrator from the Little House on the Prairie books. I could see in their eyes that it was the first time poverty became personal to them, and we enjoyed this sweet story and also had lots to talk about.


Here’s a Penny, Carolyn Haywood

The adventures and misadventures of a young, adopted boy named Penny, set in the 1940’s. We thoroughly enjoyed this story (especially the ending), and it’s sequel.


The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin was a favorite from my childhood; last month my mom gave me the beautifully illustrated copy we’ve had in our family for years, and it was our December school read aloud. This is a fantastic, fast-paced story for both boys and girls; even Gabe, who’s known to get bored of chapter books, was swept up (because I mean: goblins!!!).


The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes

This is a book for every young girl’s bookshelf. It’s about poverty and gossip and cliques. I want to reread it with Amie as she grows up.


Adventures with Waffles, Maria Parr

This was a bedtime read for Judah, Amie, and me this winter. Set in Norway, it’s about best friends Trille and Lena, who find themselves in one catastrophe after another. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and also had me choked up a couple of times. Judah loved it so much he chose to talk about it in a school presentation.


In Grandma’s Attic, Arleta Richardson

It made me so happy that my kids enjoy this series as much as I did as a little girl. In some ways reminiscent of the Little House books, it’s full of funny stories of a girl growing up on a farm.


No Children, No Pets, Marion Holland

Judah, Amie, and I thoroughly enjoyed this story of a single mom and her kids who inherit a ramshackle hotel in Florida.


Father and I Were Ranchers, Ralph Moody

We just finished this true story about a family who moves to a cattle ranch in the early 1900’s for our kid’s book club. Our kids have gotten hours of imaginative play ideas from it. A couple warnings: it has a sad ending, and there’s some “cowboy language” you’ll want to skip over, but other than that it was just about perfect. Little Britches is a whole series, and Judah’s just now starting the second book, Man of the Family. I want to read it too!


Finally, if you’re looking for more chapter books, especially for boys, here are:

Judah’s recommendations (age 9)

Captain Nobody, Dean Pitchford

Homer Price, Robert McCloskey

The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling

The Wingfeather Saga series, Andrew Peterson


I already have enough picture books/authors for another post, so I’ll write you another in awhile (with my track record, better plan on it being a long while). In the meantime, you know I always love recommendations!

Even if you don’t have kids, may I suggest making time for children’s books? Go sit yourself in the kids’ section of the library and pull a few off the shelf. The great ones never, ever fail to move me and lift my spirits.

Happy reading!

























winter bookshelf.

(photo credit)

Thank you, dear readers, for the all the book suggestions you’ve passed along since my last post. I always love new ideas and can’t wait to begin checking them out!

You know what, I promised you a Winter Bookshelf post, and then realized I felt largely unenthusiastic about recent novels. Never have I returned so many books to the library unfinished. Barbara Kingsolver says that she gives a book 20 pages, and if it hasn’t hooked her, she puts it aside. Life is too short to read books you don’t enjoy. To be honest, I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading backing through Jan Karon’s Mitford series.

If you read my fiction recommendations in the past, you may have noticed a general theme of unhappy endings. I realized when friends ask me for a light, fictional book to read, I often wrinkle my brow in thought to find something (most common recommendations for that genre are the Mitford books and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society).

Truthfully, I don’t read fiction for happy endings, but instead for the way the writing makes me feel. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good, satisfying ending (spoiler alert: that’s part of why A Gentleman in Moscow was my favorite novel last year), but I don’t like to sacrifice good writing and character development for an ending tied up with a bow.

At the same time, I’ve put several books aside recently because of how utterly un-redemptive they are, and how self-centered and small-minded the characters are. “Reality” does not always always equal “dysfunction.” Honestly, I find a lot of recent fiction off-putting. Good motivation to return to the classics this year.

It’s hard to strike that balance, isn’t it? Hats off to writers of fiction who manage it.

Here’s a handful of books that I have enjoyed lately, and on Tuesday, some book recommendations for the kids.


The Magnolia Story, Chip and Joanna Gaines

I smiled throughout this book, because Chip and Joanna’s writing voices sound exactly like their Fixer Upper voices. I’ve discovered that when reading non-fiction, what I want most of all is simply to hear someone’s story, and Joanna and Chip shared theirs — complete with strengths and weaknesses — in a very honest, humorous way, that had me cheering for them. David enjoyed reading about their variety of entrepreneurial ventures. A disappointment for me was the depiction of Christian faith, perhaps unintentionally, as shallow and capitalistic; little more than a baptized-balance sheet. Sometimes walking with God means blessing in business, sometimes it doesn’t.


The House at Riverton, Kate Morton

I’ve now read all of Kate Morton’s novels, and I enjoy them immensely. Here’s a perfect example of why I read books: though they all have a mysterious, melancholy tone, I just love the feel of her stories and her characters. I especially love her historical settings (England, around the time of World War 1 or World War II). After you’ve read a couple, they become a bit predictable, but I still find them engrossing and fun (warning: they’re really hard to put down). If you’re only going to read one of hers, my favorite by far is The Secret Keeper.


Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace, Sarah Mackenzie

I got this book with a Christmas Amazon gift card, and it’s now my single favorite book to recommend for homeschoolers. Maybe it’s just where I’m at in my journey; maybe it’s because Sarah Mackenzie has a bunch of kids herself, but her book was balm to my very soul right before we launched into a new semester of school. Blessedly short and to the point, it encapsulates the vision I have for our homeschool, and is full of practical, day-to-day encouragement. I plan to read it every year.


Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, and My Journey Towards Sanctification, Cindy Rollins

If Teaching From Rest is the top homeschooling book I’d recommend, this one’s a close second, although it’s not a how-to so much as one woman’s story: a woman who happens to have nine kids. Also a Christmas gift (admittedly picked out for myself), I devoured this memoir in a couple of days, and then starting right back at the beginning.

Cindy Rollins is a new hero to me because she embodies the kind of writing I want to do. The Author’s Note and Prologue alone are worth the price of the book. She’s well-read and smart, and yet tells her story with down-to-earth grace, honesty, and wry humor. You close the book with the impression of her as a flesh-and-blood human who makes plenty of mistakes and is still learning to find joy in her journey. My mom enjoyed this memoir very much too, which speaks to Cindy Rollins’ ability to connect with mothers in all different stages of life.


Bel Canto, Ann Patchett

I’m continuing to work my way through Ann Patchett’s fiction, and have just two novels left: Run and Taft. Bel Canto is unlike any novel I have read. A houseful of wealthy, powerful people from all over the world are taken hostage at a dinner party in an unnamed Spanish-speaking country.

Contrary to the initial plot-line suggests, this is actually a very slow-moving book, which gives you the panicked, monotonous, crawling-time feeling of being cooped up in a rambling mansion without hope of escape. It’s character and setting-driven. For a time in the middle I struggled to finish it, but I pressed on, trusting Patchett’s story-telling ability, and I’m so glad I did.


Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf

I can’t remember where I discovered this quiet book. I sat and read it in one evening and ached with the painful beauty of two lonely elderly people who try to find a life together. It’s not a happy book, but it is an insightful, well-crafted one.


Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted, Shannan Martin

I’ve had my eye on Shannan’s book since it was released and was excited to use Christmas money to finally get it. I enjoy reading her blog from time to time. She and her husband gave up their dream farmhouse in the country for a house in the city. Through a series of circumstances, they exchanged two well-paying careers for a job as a local prison chaplain and a life as a stay-at-home mom. They have four children, all adopted, one a 20-something ex-convict. This was a sweet, redemptive book to read after the blow of Evicted.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the pain and the needs in our country. I was touched and challenged by this one family’s story of finding freedom through serving, and I only wish this book contained more of the details. It’s told in snatches, in a bit of a non-linear, topical way, with Shannan’s thoughts on life and faith woven in.

I do love her emphasis on relationships, in their messiness and joy, as the doorway to real change, rather than simply doing a good deed to check a box. My favorite quote: “This is the way of community, where we all have something to offer and we all have something we lack.”

Thanks, friends!

On Tuesday I’ll be back with some children’s book recommendations!


















prelude to a winter bookshelf.


We’re full in the throes of January, and, like many of you, this is a time of year when I have to fight a little harder to be happy.

Overnight it seems that the well-lit warmth of the Christmas season gives way to a succession of cold, gray days when the very walls of this brick house seem to close in on us, and active kids cooped up too many hours wear a whole family’s stir-crazy frustration on their faces.

This results in more bickering all around (Mom and Dad included), punctuated with exasperated cries of “What were you thinking!?” (my part) and sullen blank stares (my kids’ part). Just last week the four-year-old that I thought had learned a modicum of common sense slunk into the kitchen, found a clean white washcloth in the drawer, and proceed to color the entire thing with markers. Just because.

What we all really need is to go outside. And we try to, as often as possible, whether it’s a backyard Daily Burn workout, an icy-cold walk through the neighborhood to Burger King on last Saturday’s snow day, or the 4-mile hike in the Harbison State Forest yesterday.

The thing I love about South Carolina is the handful of unseasonably warm days that plopped themselves out of nowhere into our week. We’ve thrown open the windows and pulled on t’shirts and flip flops, and curl ourselves up in patches of sunlight on the back porch and yard like cats, and the kids jump on the trampoline ’til dinner.

For these few days, all is right in the world and they remind me: cold is just a season. It will end.


Though the days are often gray and tempers prone to flare and my depression breathes heavy over my shoulder in the winter, there’s something a tiny bit joyous about living in this dark — if I stop complaining long enough to see it — because I get to anticipate the light that I know is coming, just around the corner.

And so I burrow into it. I find things to relish, like a steaming cup of coffee that warms cold hands, the cozy moccasin slippers I found at TJ Maxx, and early-dark evenings that make my little boys fall fast asleep by 7:30.

Of course, the other thing to love about winter is books. Lots and lots of them.

Next week, a little winter bookshelf list for you; today, a quick recap of last year:

I read 91 books in 2016.

Yes, it’s true. I even surprised myself with that number. It wasn’t any sort of goal, it just kind of happened.

If you’re curious, my hands-down-favorite fictional book of the year was A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.

My favorite, and most-recommended, work of non-fiction was Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond. If you decide to read it, it helped me tremendously to start with the Afterword, where Desmond explains how he researched and wrote the book. It changed the whole feel of the book for me. I also needed to take a break to read light fiction right before falling asleep at night, because that book is very heavy. Important, but heavy.

My favorite reading memory of the year was experiencing the full Harry Potter series alongside my nine-year-old, as he read them for the first time. If you’re wondering whether I’m happy with my decision to let him go ahead and read the full series at this age, I am!


And finally, even after my resolution to get back to the classics, I read just one measly classic, Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. Though it’s a story most of us know, it’s one of my least favorite of his books. Too dark and sad.

And so I turn the corner into 2017 with a resolution to read a bit fewer books this year, and instead to read some more challenging books.

If I read one classic last year, surely I can read at least two this year, right?

I will start with Little Dorrit, by Dickens, which I began several years ago but never finished.

Aside from season 5 of Call the Midwife, a few episodes of This Is Us, and some harrowing documentaries David talked me into, I watched almost zero television last year. This of course made lots of time for reading, but I decided to begin 2017 with a change of pace, to find a couple of series to get me through these winter evenings.

Who resolves to read fewer books and watch more TV?

I’m strange, I know.

I re-watched the BBC miniseries, Bleak House (available on Netflix), which is both my favorite show and favorite Dickens novel. Contrary to my usual recommendation, you should watch the series first, then read the book. My mother-in-law told me to do this, and it kept the characters straight and made the novel that much more enjoyable for me. Now, do you think I ought to do the same with the Little Dorrit film?

Currently I’m happily immersed in a recently-discovered series, Lark Rise to Candleford (available on Amazon Prime). Has anyone else watched this? Very reminiscent of Elizabeth Gaskell in my opinion, especially Cranford. I’m just reaching the end of Season One, and it’s fun!


My mom and I recently introduced Judah and Amelie to the movie Little Women (the Winona Ryder version), and they loved it Judah was initially very skeptical, but he said, “That was a great movie, Mom! I think I want to become a writer, like Jo.” Up next: Anne of Green Gables.

Okay, back to book goals.

I think I’ll read a bit more non-fiction this year, and thanks to some Christmas gifts and an Amazon gift card, I’m off to a good start. More about that coming on my winter bookshelf post.

I have a running To-Read list in my bullet journal, and I like putting it down on paper, because just by glancing at it I can try to keep some diversity in my reading habits. Too many newer novels in a row? Add something old, or something non-fiction.

I want to read Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis.

I also plan to read the Wingfeather Saga series by Andrew Peterson, which Judah got for Christmas and is currently enjoying.

My friend Betsy recommended the memoir Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons, by Christie Purifoy, which is on my list.

So that means I need you guys to give me a classic and/or non-fiction recommendation (of course fiction is always appreciated too!). Any ideas?

I hope you’re enjoying some sunshine this Sunday! Hugs!

fall bookshelf.


Hello fellow readers!

Here in South Carolina the air has turned crisp in the mornings but still deliciously warm and sunny in the afternoons. A few of our old-house windows aren’t painted shut and they’re thrown open to the breeze. It’s the perfect weather to drag a chair outside with a cup of something hot to drink and read.

Hopefully this list provides you with some inspiration for your fall and winter bookshelf.

A note: With the exception of extreme cases, I’m going to stop giving disclaimers for books with objectionable content (language, sex) because unfortunately it seems that almost everything I read has some level of objectionable content. Anne Bogel describes this phenomenon in her post, The 8 uncomfortable lines I want to cut from the books I’m reading these days.

You can (hopefully) trust that if I recommend a book I think it’s worth reading despite the things I wish weren’t there. And so, as readers, we forge ahead into the brave unknown, thankful for the creativity and hard work of people who make our reading life rich!

In other words: I’m very excited about this list.

2016 has been a lovely year for reading, mainly because I have excellent sources for book recommendations. Modern Mrs. Darcy remains my favorite. But I also get ideas from friends, from blogs I follow, and browsing bookstores. If a book fails to capture my attention, I give it 25 pages or so and then find something different. You should feel free to do the same!

I always try to include some variety in my bookshelf posts to make allowances for different tastes, but I don’t mind one bit when you dislike a book I recommend, or even if you tell me so. I love discussing books, period, although just to warn you, I will take it as a personal challenge to then find something you’ll like better.

The joy of a reading life is that if you forage long enough, there’s something for everyone, and something for all seasons. I love when you text/email/comment with book recommendations of your own. Please keep it up!



Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequest. This is the right book for me in this season of life. I really enjoyed Shauna Niequest’s memoir, Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, but I liked this one even better. I can relate to much of her journey from finding self-worth in affirmation and performance, to stripping down to the bare bones of who she is in Christ, finding peace with a small life, trying to love a few people well. There’s a lot of wisdom here.



When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi. The memoir of neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Kalanithi, who was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer at age 36. He writes with simplicity and candor; this little book will break your heart and also make you grateful to be alive and grateful for the people you love.



Snow Hunters, Paul Yoon. Another short book for those of you who are strapped for time. It can easily tuck into your bag (I highly recommend reading as a way to pass the time standing in lines). This is a quiet book about a man who immigrates to Brazil during the Korean War. He builds a new life there and begins to find healing from his past.



Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. This is my year of discovering Ann Patchett. I’ve had her books on my mental to-read list for forever, and finally dove right in with State of Wonder. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and also enjoyed The Patron Saint of Liars and The Magician’s Assistant. I feature Commonwealth here because it’s her newest novel and thus far my favorite (although hold that thought because my copy of Bel Canto should be arriving in the mail today).

The funny thing is I don’t always love her characters or plot lines — especially the endings. But she writes with insight into human nature and a marvelous ability to give the reader a sense of place — whether that place is the deepest Amazon rain forest, or the windy suburbs of Nebraska. I plan to read every one of her novels.



The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy. If you’re not a fiction-lover, try this memoir from novelist Pat Conroy. Our Book and Tea Club read it as part of our “Year of Southern Authors.” I was deeply moved by the story of his year teaching school on Yamacraw Island (now Daufuskie Island) off the coast of South Carolina in the late 1960’s. You will laugh one minute and feel outraged at the brokenness of our world in the next.



Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi. This is another sad book, and I will give the heads-up that it contains some graphic content. It traces the history of two fictional African families over the course of several generations, one sold into slavery in America, one who stayed behind in Ghana.

I read a very insightful blog post by an African-American woman (I’m sorry now that I can’t remember where in order to link it) in response to a white man’s Facebook post. Referring to the racial tension that still infects our country like a disease, he asked, “What do you want me to do?”  She said, “The place to start is to listen. To agree — and not argue — that white privilege is real, and to understand that black people in America have a different story than you do.”

It seems to me this could be an important book in beginning to listen.



Locomotion, Jacqueline Woodson. I’m continuing to work my way through Jaqueline Woodson’s middle-grade fiction. I most recently read Locomotion and Miracle’s Boys (both short books), and enjoyed them as much as her others. Woodson is extraordinarily gifted at capturing the haunting nature of grief and loss through the eyes of children.



The Midwife’s Revolt, Jodi Daynard. I found this novel thanks to my mother-in-law’s book club list, and enjoyed it so much I read it twice. It follows the fictional story of a midwife friend of Abigail Adams during the Revolutionary War. I liked the sequel, Our Own Country, just as much and am happy to hear that the author is writing a third book in this series (there’s nothing better than a great series, is there?).



Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines, David Mathis. Here’s a change of pace. I’ll admit I’m a bit skeptical of new books on “How to have a quiet time.” But our church received a free copy of this book, and I couldn’t resist giving it a try. I appreciated it so much I’ve been recommending it far and wide. David felt the same way, so much so that bought it for the CPC elders.

David Mathis is a fantastic writer and has a simple, fresh way of explaining the old truth: that there is no magic shortcut to becoming like Jesus. The path involves small, daily habits, worked out over the course of a lifetime. His book will make remind you why these habits are important and beautiful.



The Secret Keeper, Kate Morton. This was my beach vacation read this year, and I’m so glad I chose it! It’s another book I wanted to read twice. I tried a Kate Morton book in the past (The Forgotten Garden) and thought it was so-so, but I loved this one. I’ve read The Lake House since and enjoyed it too, but I think The Secret Keeper will remain my favorite. I’m contemplating trying another one, so if you have another favorite, let me know! She’s a great story-teller.



A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles. This is also my year of discovering Amor Towles. I was planning to feature the first of his novels, Rules of Civility, a glittering story of New York society in the 1930’s, but I finished this one while writing the post and had to make a switch. Don’t get me wrong: Rules of Civility was great, but A Gentleman in Moscow is just perfection. If you enjoy classic Russian lit at all, you will be delighted — and then you’ll want to go back and reread Anna Karenina.



The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah. So I guess by now you detect a strong “Historical Fiction” theme to my book recommendations. Ah well. What can I say? I guess it’s my happy place: it’s the best way I know to both pay my respects to and learn from the past. Several friends recommended The Nightingale to me, set in German-occupied France during World War 2. It’s heart-breaking and hopeful.



Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave. Another World War 2 novel, but this one is set in London and on the island of Malta, and the most intriguing part about it to me is that it’s loosely based on letters that the author’s grandparents exchanged. David and I both read this novel and really enjoyed it.



All The Pretty Things, Edie Wadsworth. This is the memoir of Edie Wadsworth, who journeyed from a childhood of poverty in Appalachia to become a successful medical doctor, and finally a full-time stay-at-home mother. It’s a sad, beautiful story of suffering, sin, redemption, and freedom, as Edie comes to know the God that pursued her heart over a lifetime.







summer 2016 and the bookshelf.


Hello, dear readers!

It’s June, the time of year when life slows down and routines become gentler and there’s more free time — right?

Why do I feel like this isn’t always the case?

I’ve been shocked at how quickly our summer has threatened to become as full of activities as the school year. There are so many fun things to do! Invitations and play dates and cook-outs. Even before we returned from vacation in Florida last week, I started to feel overwhelmed and sad.

What about long, lazy days, staying in pj’s most of the morning, slurping homemade Popsicles out in the pavilion, baking cookies together? What about riding bikes? What about chunks of time to teach my kids a few more chores around the house — and to be home long enough so they can actually do those chores? What about book baskets sprinkled throughout the house and plenty of hours to curl up and read?

Then suddenly I realized: Wait. Just because there’s lots of wonderful options, does not mean we have to do them all. We certainly have a say in how our summer turns out.

And so, two weeks into June, I’ve come up with a vision for our summer, and I find myself saying “no” far more than I say “yes.” Not because I don’t have friends to see or fun things to let my kids participate in. But because I want to rest. I want something different than the schedule we keep all year — wonderful as that is.

I want my kids to feel bored, so they learn how to make their own fun. I do not want to be their chauffeur. I want to linger and cuddle on the sofa and tickle Gabe while he cackles with laughter, and play Uno in the living room during the sweltering afternoon heat. I want Poetry Teatime with Mum-Mum, and to practice reading with Amie every day (because she said just this weekend, “Mommy, I want to read Little House in the Big Woods together, but you’re always too busy”).

And so here we are. We’re doing a few fun things this summer. We will certainly see friends and family. We’ve already tackled some big house projects and I’m sure will do some more. We’ll keep up with swim practice twice a week.

But I have whole day-blocks in my calendar that are completely blank. And right now, that’s a delicious feeling.

The last proper Bookshelf post I wrote was at the end of January; I’ve come to know and love so many new books in the last four or so months, and I’m excited to share them with you! Hopefully you’ll find something here that you can take on vacation or to the lake or maybe just to your back porch with iced tea or a glass of cold white wine.

I divided the books into categories, so you can just skim the list and see what you’re in the mood for. Some of these titles I’ve mentioned in previous posts, but I think they’re worth repeating. I’ll keep descriptions brief, to save my own sanity, and yours!

Happy summer and happy reading!



Walking Across Egypt, Clyde Edgerton


A little novel set in a Southern small-town that follows the misadventures of the opinionated, 78-year-old Mattie Rigsbee and the juvenile delinquent she befriends. This book was both laugh-out-loud-funny and moving.


A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman


Ove is a middle-aged, bitter, and quite unlikable man. At first. As you peel back the layers of his story, you start to understand the path he’s traveled. I thoroughly enjoy the group of people that march themselves into his life, and change it forever. (Heads up for language)


Historical Fiction

These Is My Words, Nancy Turner


I know I’ve mentioned this book already; it remains one of my favorite historical fiction novels. It’s filled with all the calamity you can expect from a historical novel set in the Arizona Territory in the time of the Indian wars, but despite the violence, and some farfetched twists in the plot, I love it. The characters feel like dear friends.


My Name is Resolute, Nancy Turner


This is a long novel, but one I was unable to put down; so reader, beware. It just might consume your time until you finish it! I haven’t read a novel about Revolutionary-era America in as long as I can remember. I didn’t adore it quite as much as These Is My Words, but still found it a great read.


The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson


Once in awhile I’ll read a book and just swell with pride for the author for his or her accomplishment. That’s how I felt about The Summer Before the War. Set at the start of World War 1 in East Sussex, England, it reads like a much-older classic, in the best of ways.


Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson


I then felt compelled to read Simonson’s first novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and highly enjoyed it too. This novel is set in modern day England and it explores the issues of family, immigration, and interracial relationships.


Middle grade fiction
I don’t think I really knew what middle-grade fiction was until this year, when I read Brown Girl Dreaming. It’s defined as fiction that targets 8-13 year-olds (think Newberry Honor books), and I’ve come to enjoy this genre. I think one of the biggest ways middle and high-schoolers can gain perspective in the thick of hormone changes and peer pressure and the struggles of growing up, is through reading good books. I look forward to one day reading and discussing these books with my kids.

If your summer is busy and you don’t have much time for reading, may I suggest one of these titles? They are much shorter than the others on the list (with the exception of Echo), but just as delightful.

Feathers, Jacqueline Woodson


From the author of Brown Girl Dreaming, this is a coming-of-age novel about a girl named Frannie, who experiences the pangs of growing up and begins to see the people in her world with new eyes.


When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead


This is a fabulous novel that is part-mystery, part-fantasy, with a heroine you will come to love.


Goodbye Stranger, Rebecca Stead



You’ve probably noticed that when I find an author I like, I suddenly want to read lots of their books. So I’m on a Rebecca Stead kick right now. Her books are fun, thought-provoking, and wise. This one pricks as you witness characters make poor decisions, but the subject matter is handled so well, and the lessons they learn are vital.


Echo, Pam Munoz Ryan


This novel won a 2016 Newberry Honor award, and wins the prize for coolest cover art of this list, in my opinion. It follows three children during World War 2, and has a fantastic ending.


A Whole Series to Bury Yourself In
You knew I was going here, right? My two favorite series of all time, perfect for burying yourself in all summer long. In fact, I’m still dwelling in Harry Potter, right alongside Judah, this summer, and having a blast.

The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling


The Mitford series, Jan Karon




Everything You Ever Wanted: A Memoir, Jillian Lauren


I loved this memoir of a couple who adopted a baby boy from Ethiopia. Jillian Lauren is hilarious, painfully honest, and insightful. She feels like someone I’d love to be friends with. (Heads up for language)


The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander


I’ll tell you at the very beginning: at first this feels like a book about death. The author is poet and Yale professor, Elizabeth Alexander. Her Eritrean husband — and father of her two sons — dies suddenly at the beginning of the book, and this beautiful story of their love and Alexander’s learning how to grieve well and cope in a world without him will break your heart, but also fill you with hope.


A Girl From Yamhill, Beverly Cleary


As you know, my big kids are huge Beverly Cleary fans. As I was browsing titles for them, I came across her two memoirs, and decided to check them out. I loved this book, and her second memoir, My Own Two Feet! Cleary is a great writer, and I enjoyed learning about her life growing up in Oregon during the Depression. In her childhood stories, I loved seeing glimpses of her inspiration for the Henry Huggins and Ramona series.


Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, John Elder Robison


I nearly put this book down a couple of times because it was terribly sad and depressing — not so much because of Robison’s Asperger’s, but because of his childhood. However, I’m so glad I finished it. Robison is a survivor, and the way he eventually learned to live and thrive with his Asperger’s syndrome — in the face of many odds — is inspiring and hopeful. (Heads up for language)


All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, Brennan Manning


This last memoir on the list is another sad one, but well worth reading. Catholic priest-turned-Christian-evangelist, Brennan Manning, battled alcohol addiction nearly his entire life. This book is his deeply personal, honest account of his childhood and life spotted with sin and pain, but also with an unshakeable belief in the love and forgiveness of God. David and I were both very moved by his story.