Four Books for Your New Year

Part of what makes blogging fun for me is the chance to preview new books or books that haven’t even hit the shelves yet. Today I’m sharing some of these new books with you. The quiet of January seems to be a perfect time to catch up on some reading—maybe one or two of these would be just right for you.

Choose Joy by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver

Get your Kleenex ready for this one. My real-life friend, Mary Carver, has compiled several blog posts that tell about the life, illness, and death of Sara Frankl, and I couldn’t be prouder of Mary’s accomplishment here.

A little background: Sara suffered from a rare genetic disorder (brought about by a car accident when she was in college of all things!) that became so severe that she could not leave her home. As a young, homebound woman, Sara found an outlet and a connection to the outside world through her blog, Gitzen Girl. The wisdom, kindness, and generosity of spirit that Sara shared with her readers were qualities of a woman far beyond her 30- some years. In this book, Mary shares Sara’s life and background along with some of her more poignant posts.

I was a faithful reader of Gitzen Girl, following Sara’s trials until her death in 2011, and I, like Mary, was deeply affected by Sara’s life and words. I think you will appreciate Sara’s wisdom and thoughts about life in this beautiful book as much as I did.

Again, I’ve read Kristen’s blog, We Are THAT Family, since it began, and I have loved her heart, her wisdom, and her parenting style. In this book, Kristen lays out how she and her husband have raised their kids in a counter-cultural way. So much of what Kristen says here resonates with me, and I highly recommend this book. I’m sure many parents who read this will be challenged to think carefully about their families, about society, and about how we raise kids to be world-changers.

Yes, there is much in the book about teaching gratitude, as the title suggests, but as I read the book I couldn’t help thinking that a few of the chapters weren’t so much about teaching kids to be thankful as they were about how Kristen and her husband parent their children. The title was a little confusing to me.

I also noted several ways in which their parenting style and ours are different—we all parent just a little differently from each other anyway, don’t we? But I still found several chapters challenging, convicting, and helpful for young parents.

Hope for the Weary Mom Devotional by Stacey Thacker and Brooke McGlothlin.

More real-life friends here! Stacey, who started Mothers ofDaughters (where I contribute monthly) and Brooke, who started the MOB Society (for moms of boys), first linked writing arms to bring us Hope for the Weary Mom. In their most recent book they share 40-days of devotional thoughts aimed specifically for those of us who struggle to feel seen, loved, and understood along our journey of motherhood.

I loved this book because the devotionals are short, scriptural, and point us to the heart of God for moms. I could relate so well to those early days of motherhood, feeling alone and pretty much a mess and wondering if anyone knew how hard it all was for me. Brooke and Stacey reassure us that God sees, He knows, and He cares deeply about moms.

If you have young children, or if you’re a mom whose looking for a sound, scriptural devotional, I recommend this book.

Hoodwinked by Karen Ehman and Ruth Schwenk.

This books was a surprise to me. I honestly didn’t think I was going to like it because, like most people, I do judge a book by its cover. And, in my opinion, this cover isn’t the best.

But when I dug into the heart of the book, I found that I really enjoyed it. In fact, on almost every page I found myself thinking, “That’s me! I did that! I thought that!”

Hoodwinked is a book about debunking the myths of motherhood and replacing the lies we all sometimes believe with Scriptural truths. For me, the chapter titled “Myth #2: The Way I Mother is the Right (and Only) Way,” was worth the price of the book alone! And also? I loved the phrase “Mommier-than-thou” that they used to describe some of our more judgmental mommy moments. Had me laughing out loud.

In each chapter the authors somehow manage to be convicting about the myths we hold on to and grace-filled about the ways we have felt judged as moms. Filled with biblical truth and practical knowledge, this is a great book for moms who need to push a reset button in their thinking. As I said, I was surprised about how much I liked this book.

So mamas, are you looking for some wintertime reading? Why not check out one or two of these books. You might find yourself laughing or crying, but they might also help make those long, dreary days of winter go just a little bit faster. 

Book Reviews: So Long Insecurity Teen Edition and One Year Devos for Teen Girls

When Tyndale wrote to ask if I’d review a couple of books for teens, I jumped at the chance. Why not have my own teenager read them and give me some feedback? Julia (who is 15) and I read these books separately, but I’ve combined our thoughts about the books here.

So Long Insecurity Teen Edition by Beth Moore

I read Beth Moore’s original book, So Long Insecurity, a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I like the main premise of both books (the one for adults and the one for teens), which is basically that you can be secure in who God made you to be. Insecurity comes when we want something more than what God intended for us—a relationship with Him.

The teen version of the book is laid out in a magazine format with lots of colorful pictures of happy, smiling girls in cute clothes. To be honest, if I were an insecure teen, I’d wonder what those girls had that I didn’t. But, hey, that's just my insecurity talking, right? 

The magazine format didn’t do much for me, but Julia seemed to like it. (She especially got a kick out of seeing a couple of girls from her school who were models in the book.) The articles were fine—just a little “light.” I’d say that this book would be appropriate for girls in the 12-15 year range.

One thing I really liked about the book was the chapter at the end that spells out what a secure girl looks like. For example, “A secure girl lifts up other girls instead of comparing herself to them.” And, “A secure girl doesn’t base her sense of worth on being popular or having that ‘one thing’ she thinks will make her happy.” This really drives the main ideas home and leaves girls thinking about what they should be striving after.

One Year Devos for Teen Girls by Dannah Gresh and Suzy Weibel

Now this is a book I’d love for my girls to read and read and read again. It’s written in your basic devotional format: Bible verse, some real-life stories and examples, and application. Simple, easy to follow, and easy to understand.

The authors tackle some difficult subjects (depression, bullying, homosexuality), but they handle them biblically and, I think, very well. Several entries are devoted to Facebook, which is obviously a relevant topic to teen girls, as well as hyperconnectivity and, of course, boys. All important topics to look at in light of what the Bible has to say about life.

For girls who want to know what God thinks about topics that matter to them today, this devotional is great. It’s fresh, it’s relevant, and it’s no-nonsense biblical wisdom for young women who want to go deeper in their relationship with God.

You can buy these books here. You can connect with Tyndale Teens on Twitter or Instagram, too!

I received two books from Tyndale for this review, but the opinions are my own.

Book Review: Bread and Wine AND Fabulous Friday Food: Cassoulet

You guys know I love food, right?

And you know I love to travel, right?

Find me a book that combines a love for both, and you’ve got me at hello.

Hello, Shauna Niequist!

Shauna has just this week released her third book, Bread and Wine, and I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy to review. Let me tell you, I devoured this book. As in, I was so hungry to read it and to keep reading it that I had a hard time putting it down.

This is a memoir, as are all of Shauna’s books. (Her others, which I have also read, are Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet—both very good.) But this one’s a memoir that involves food and cooking and a little bit of travel.

Right up my alley. 

Here’s one of my favorite passages from the book. It’s a little long, so hold on for a minute:

“I hold all these places and flavors with me, like a fistful of shiny coins, like a charm bracelet. I want to be everywhere at once. I want a full English breakfast at a pub in London, and hot buttery naan in New Delhi for lunch. I want conch fritters at a beach bar in the Bahamas, and an ice-cold Fanta overlooking Lake Victoria. I want Cowgirl Creamery’s Triple Crème Brie at the Ferry Market in San Francisco, and the gingerbread pancakes from Magnolia Café in Austin. I want it all—all the tastes, all the smells, all the stories and memories and traditions, all the textures and flavors and experiences, all running down my chin, all over my fingers.
            Sometimes people ask me why I travel so much, and specifically why we travel with Henry so often. I think they think it’s easier to keep the kids at home, in their routines, surrounded by their stuff. It is. But we travel because it’s there. . . . We travel because I want my kids to learn, as I learned, that there are a million ways to live, a million ways to eat, a million ways to dress and speak and view the world. . . .
            I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn’t bad, but instead that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand.” (page 87)

There. She has fully articulated one of the wonders of travel with kids. I love that!

Besides interesting, thought-provoking stories about her life and faith, Shauna fills her book with amazing recipes. I can’t wait to try her recipe for Sweet Potato Fries with Sriracha Dipping Sauce or Esquites/Mexican Grilled Corn which is taken from one of my absolutely, positively, MOST FAVORITE Mexican restaurant: Bien Trucha in Geneva, IL. (I was pretty excited when she mentioned that one.)

And if all that hasn’t convinced you to get the book and read it, I’ve got a bonus for you: a Fabulous Friday Food post featuring one of Shauna’s recipes.

Today we’re making Real Simple Cassoulet from Bread and Wine.

I’ve wanted to try making cassoulet since my husband had it at his very special birthday dinner back in January. He raved about this simple, classic French dish made with meat and beans. Wouldn’t you know, just a couple of weeks after that dinner, I’d be reading Shauna’s book. And wouldn’t you know that she would actually give me a recipe for cassoulet that didn’t seem too intimidating or difficult.

In fact, it was EASY! Not only that, it was delicious. My husband absolutely loved it and commented on it for a long time after that meal. In fact, I think he put it in his top-five-of-all-time favorite recipes. That’s how much he liked it.

After dinner he said, “That one’s a keeper.”

So here we go, making a “keeper.” Hopefully you’ll try this one and put it in your top five list too.

First, assemble your ingredients. You'll need olive oil, Italian sausage (here's where I deviated just a little from Shauna's original recipe--she used turkey sausage, but I used the real thing), chicken broth, onion, carrots, parsnips, tomato, cannellini beans, thyme, garlic, bread crumbs, parsley, and butter. It seems like a lot of ingredients, and it is, but if you do all of your chopping ahead of time, this baby will come together really quickly.

Side note: I had never cooked with parsnips before. Never even bought one. But, I've gotta say, I will definitely be using them in the future. They are kind of sweet, very interesting, and yummy. 

Brown the sausage in the olive oil in a large Dutch oven until it's almost crispy on the outside. You need some of the brown drippings in the bottom of the pan to give the cassoulet its rich flavor.

Remove the sausage from the pan and add the onion, carrots, and parsnips. Brown these for a few minutes to soften the vegetables and add flavor. (Oh, O.K., I deviated from her recipe here too. Shauna said to add the chicken stock here, but I sauteed the vegetables first. Sorry!)

Now go ahead and add the stock, tomato, beans, garlic, thyme, and the sausage. Salt and pepper too. 

Bring all of this to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and allow to simmer for about one hour. Your cassoulet should be thickened and the vegetables nice and tender.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, parsley, and butter and sprinkle over the cassoulet. Bake, uncovered, until the crust is golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

And voila! You have a delicious, comforting dish to warm the hearts of your friends and family.

I served this with a green salad and some French bread. Yum! And now I want more. 

I hope you'll try this one. It was so delicious. And, as my husband says, it's a keeper.

Thanks, Shauna! 

Now tell me, have you read Shauna Niequist's book yet? Do you think you'll try to make cassoulet? What are you cooking this weekend?

For a printable version of this recipe, click here.

To purchase Shauna's book on Amazon, click here.

To subscribe to my blog (oh, how I wish you would!), sign up over there ------>

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Bread and Wine in exchange for this blog post. All the views expressed here are entirely my own.

Is Heaven Is For Real For Real?

So many of you have asked what I thought about the book Heaven Is For Real that I figured I’d better just put it out there.

Once I figure out what I really think of the book, that is.

A little background first. While we were on sabbatical a friend gave me this book to read. I had never heard of it other than maybe in passing on the news. I had never read it. I really didn’t know much about it at all.

So if you’re like me and don't know much about the book, I’ll give you a quick two-sentence synopsis. Colton Burpo, not quite four years old, has an emergency appendectomy and is very near death. Several weeks later he begins to tell bits and pieces of what happened to him while he was on the operating table, and it seems to his pastor-dad that he has been given a glimpse into heaven.

The rest is the book Heaven Is For Real.

I honestly don’t know what I think, other than knowing that the book has certainly stayed with me.

I decided, for the sake of research, to read what some others have said about the book and found reactions that range anywhere from “Cool! He went to Heaven!” to “Hmmm, maybe.” to “No way. No how. There is nothing like this in the Bible anywhere.”

A little grace-less, that last post, in my opinion.

Here are some things I know:

- Nobody in the Bible had an experience like this and came back to tell about it. Yes, Lazarus was dead, but once he came back to life there is no biblical evidence that he spoke about his experience in heaven.

- God has told us everything we need to know about heaven in the Bible. He doesn’t need a little kid to do His work for him.

Here are some things I wish:

- I wish God had told us a little more about heaven in His word.
- I wish I understood heaven better.
- I wish I longed for heaven more—I think it would change the way I look at the world around me.

Here are some things I felt after I read the book:

- More secure in the love God has for me. There’s a part in the book where the parents ask Colton what God looks like. He thinks about it for a long while and then he says that God is big. But then, rather than focusing on what God looks like, he says (and I paraphrase), “He loves us so much. He really, reeeeeaaaaally loves us. You can’t believe how much God loves us!”

As someone who constantly struggles with wondering why God would love me—little old unworthy me—this section of the book made me stop and think for a while. And cry just a little bit. Because when I think about the marks on Jesus’ hands and feet (another part of the book), I have to ask myself, who am I to question God’s love for me? He sent His SON to die for me. Of course He loves me!

(He loves you that much too, by the way.)

- Really excited to get to heaven someday. There are people I can’t wait to see there. My brother, especially. And my dear Grandpa Earl. I thought of them constantly as I read this book. Do I think they are eternally sitting by a pond fishing together? I have no idea. But do I know without a doubt they are there, waiting to greet their loved ones. Yes, I do. And what a glorious reunion that will be.

But here’s where the book and I part ways. My biblical understanding of heaven is that worship will be a huge part of what we’re doing in heaven. It’s not ultimately about seeing our loved ones again. It’s all about Jesus and His Father, and laying our lives before His throne because of what He has done.

And there’s very little of that in the book.

There are lots of stories about a long-lost grandfather or a too-early-lost sister who was miscarried long before Colton was born. There are reflections about what Jesus looked like and what He was wearing. And a really hard-to-believe part about angels flying around.

But where’s the worship?

“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, 
for ever and ever!” Revelation 5:11-13
Personally, I don’t want to spend my time in heaven focusing on my past hurts, losses, or griefs. I want to spend eternity focusing on the One who loves me so much that He would give his life for me.

Do I believe Colton’s story? I still don’t know. I think I will always take the 5th on that one.

Do I want to believe it? You bet.

Is his story the most important one and the story where I should focus my attention? Absolutely not.

And maybe that’s the best takeaway I could get from this book.


For the Love of Books

I remember the first time a book really spoke to me. The main character was about my age, going through a lot of the same things I was going through at the time, and yet, she was something I was not but something I aspired to be--popular, cute, and put together. Plus she went on some amazing adventures and very nearly got herself killed a time or two.

Oh, volumes were written about this character. I wanted to be her.

Her name was Nancy Drew.

Today, books speak to me all the time, but I don't choose my books so much for the main characters anymore. I mainly choose my books based on the setting. (Is that weird?) I'll think to myself, "Gee, I'd like to go to England today" so I'll head to the library and check out a good book that's set in England.

England and the South are my favorite settings.

In nearly every book I read, something pops out at me that makes me think, "Oh yeah, I do that" or "I think that, too." I turn down the page and come back to that little moment later, when I can write it down.

Last week I read "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" for the second time. I wanted to be transported back to England, and I remember loving that book the first time around, so I picked it up again. I'm so glad I did. I loved every moment that I spent with that eclectic group of characters.

And I loved the insight of the authors. Insight into what was happening during World War II. Insight into relationships. Insight into the slower pace of life on the island of Guernsey. (I think I'd like to move there.)

One section of the book really caught my attention because the authors picked up on my own motherly instinct/quirky thing I do. First, a little background. The main character in the book is Juliet (don't you love that name?), a single journalist who's trying to figure out if she wants to be married or not. She learns about what the people of Guernsey have to go through when the Germans invade their small island, and she wants to find out more about their lives during the war so that she can write about it. In the process, she becomes attached to a motherless little girl named Kit.

As she's getting to know what happened during the war, she learns that, just as the Germans are about to descend on the island, which is situated not far from France in the English Channel, all of the children are rounded up and sent to the main part of England to live with relatives or friends.

Juliet is processing this information in light of the little girl she's fallen in love with named Kit.
"I see myself becoming bearlike around Kit. Even when I'm not actually watching her, I'm watching her. If she's in any sort of danger (which she often is, given her taste in climbing), my hackles rise--I didn't even know I had hackles before--and I run to rescue her. When her enemy, the parson's nephew, threw plums at her, I roared at him. And through some queer sort of intuition, I always know where she is, just as I know where my hands are--and if I didn't, I should be sick with worry. . . . How did the mothers of Guernsey live, not knowing where there children were? I can't imagine."
That's the part that got me. That's the moment in the book, this time around, that made me say, "Yes! I get that!" Not that I'm bearlike about my kids, but I do have hackles. Definitely hackles. But the part I totally understood was where she says that through some sort of intuition, she always knows where Kit is.

I do that too. I always know, in some general way, where my girls are. I know that right now Caroline is at camp (a general sort of knowing, yes, but still, I know), Kate is riding to work with her dad, and Julia is upstairs in bed sleeping. Later in the day I will do another mental assessment of where each child is: camp, work, pool (maybe?). And at night I'll do another assessment: camp (probably by a campfire or hiking back from the dining hall), out with friends, at youth group. My mind is constantly thinking about my girls and where each one is at any given moment of the day.

I've always done this. I do it so much that it's become a habit with me. And I wonder, will I still do this when they are older and have families of their own? Will I still think so much about my children that I will mentally place them wherever I think they might be at any given moment?

I'm grateful to the authors of "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" because they helped me see the world in a new way--through the eyes of some brave survivors--but they also helped me see that the world, at least in terms of mothering, hasn't changed that much at all.

Oh, I do love books.

I need to know: if you're a mom, do you do this? Am I completely out of my mind? And if you're not a mom, how do you choose your books--setting, character, or plot? What's your favorite setting to read about?

Weekend Bloggy Reading


Book(s) Review: "The Sword" and "The Gift"

I’m mad at Bryan Litfin.

Here he goes, writing fiction (the guy is a theology professor by day), and getting me all sucked into his stories.

I read his first two forays into fiction (“The Sword” and “The Gift”—the first two books of what he calls the Chiveis trilogy) earlier this spring, and I read them back-to-back, which is something I hardly ever do. I didn’t even wait a few days between books—again, something I never do. And it’s Christian fiction—really something I hardly ever do.

But I know Bryan (we go to church together), and we had talked about writing a few times. I was intrigued by the premise of his books (and also his publisher sent me a review copy of “The Gift”), so I started reading . . . and I couldn’t stop.

Here’s the idea. The world as we know it is destroyed by a virus and a nuclear war. Leap frog 400 years into the future, and very little of the modern world remains. In fact, civilization has reverted back almost to a medieval world of horseback and chain mail and chivalry. The world that our main characters, Teo and Ana, are living in is also a world dominated by pagan religion, devoid of any knowledge of the one true God. In fact, the Bible has been wiped off the face of the earth, or so it seems.

What follows is a story of adventure, intrigue, suspense, and romance all rolled into one. How can one author do that? you might ask. I’m not sure, but Bryan has handled it well.

Most interesting to me was how Bryan explored the question, How does a civilization learn about God without the Bible and without any knowledge of Jesus? Partway through the first book, Teo and Ana do discover the remnants of an old Bible, but the New Testament has been completely ruined, so, while they know there is more than what they have, they don’t know what it says.

These books get at the heart of the Christian faith by asking important questions. Is there one God or many? If there is one God, what is He like? And what is my relationship to Him? In following Teo and Ana’s journey, Bryan invites his readers to explore these questions for themselves.

Oh sure, there were times when I thought, “No way. That would never happen!” or “He would never say that.” But in the end, I was pulled into the story—so much so that I still think about the characters and their adventures, wishing I could be there with them.

And that’s why I’m mad at Bryan Litfin. These books are a part of a trilogy, and the third installment doesn’t come out until next year. I don’t know if I can wait that long to find out what happens to these characters I have grown to love!

I highly recommend “The Sword” and “The Gift”—they would make excellent summer reading. If you want to read more reviews or see an interview with Bryan (how cool is that?!) or to purchase the books, head on over to Amazon (and, no, I don’t get any money for saying that).

And Bryan, hurry up with Book 3, will you?!


Book Review: O Me of Little Faith

Is it O.K. to doubt God? Is questioning your faith acceptable? These are the questions I struggled with as I read Jason Boyette’s new book, “O Me of Little Faith.

This is a painfully honest book, and if you’re not ready to delve into the deep dark world of doubt, this probably won’t be a book you’ll want to read. But if you’re looking for a memoir that is vulnerable and real about the Christian faith—all of it—then you might be interested.

I’ll admit I had some issues with Jason. His chapter on prayer was especially inconsistent, in my view. He starts out the chapter saying that basically he doesn’t pray because he’s not so sure that prayer really matters, later admitting that he doesn’t pray as much as he should. But then, toward the end of the chapter, he’s all over the prayer aspect of his faith, saying that using liturgical prayer has greatly helped his prayer life.

Huh? I thought you said you didn’t have much of a prayer life.

As an English teacher, these types of inconsistencies bothered me throughout the book.

But, as much as the inconsistencies bugged me, his conclusion delighted me. I’m glad I read through to the end, because that's where Jason got me (or I got him, not sure which). Even though he spends much of the book bemoaning his conservative Christian upbringing and his internal angst about his lack of faith, he concludes in such a satisfactory way, to me, because he basically says this: Faith is putting one foot in front of the other, day after day, sometimes plodding on toward an uncertain goal.

But it’s worth it.

And that’s where I agree wholeheartedly with Jason. Having faith is not a feeling; it’s a decision.

“In religious faith, as in parenting and marriage, the best response to uncertainty and doubt is commitment. Your kids may occasionally disappoint you, but you love them and raise them anyway, gritting your teeth and hoping for the best. Your spouse may be less than perfect, but you commit to a lifetime of companionship anyway, loving sacrificially and praying for grace. Your relationship with God may be full of doubt, but you leap to faith and hope it’s all real. You worship. You gather with other believers. You pray for mercy.”

And this is the part I especially liked, when he talks about just holding on to faith, even when parts of you want to let go: “. . . I try to keep pedaling, even when I’m doubting. I keep living as a committed Christian, even on the days when I don’t feel like one. . . . I keep living as if the sun will rise, as if I’ll survive the waters of baptism, as if Jesus will indeed carry me safely across the falls. That’s me in the corner, trying not to lose my religion. How? By working out my salvation with fear and trembling.”

So Jason’s conclusion, that we Christians need a heavy dose of commitment and wherewithal to pursue Christ on those days we doubt, is pretty satisfying to me as I put one foot in front of the other, pressing on toward the goal.


Book Review: Life in Defiance

Who did it? Who killed Daisy Chance?

If you read my earlier review of Mary DeMuth’s A Slow Burn, you know that I have really enjoyed this trilogy. Not because it presents life in an unrealistic way. Not because it ties everything up with a bow. Quite the opposite.

This series can be tough to read. The characters are so real you feel like you could reach out and touch them. The tragedy so thick you feel like you’re wading through the sorrow until the end.

But isn’t that life sometimes? Life can be tragic, and the people we know suffer. And that’s what I appreciate about Mary’s writing—she’s not afraid to tackle the yucky stuff of life. And yet, through the tragedy and through the suffering, Mary points us clearly to hope.

Yes, you’ll find out in this final book who did it. You’ll find out the name of Daisy’s killer. But, in a way, that’s all secondary because the characters who really matter, the ones we really care about, find their way. They find hope. They find courage. They find redemption.

If you haven’t read Daisy Chain or A Slow Burn first, this book probably won’t make a whole lot of sense to you, so get the first two and read them in order. But make sure you finish up with Life in Defiance because here is where you’ll find the ultimate conclusion.


Our Favorite Children's Books

I don't know why, but for some reason I have been thinking about children's books. Who knows why I think anything, right?, now that I've let you into the inner workings of my brain.

Anyway . . . I must be getting nostalgic these days. Graduation is coming. New stages of life are forming. It's as it should be, but I can't help thinking back.

We did a lot of reading when my girls were little. A lot. Surprised? I didn't think so.

So today I thought I'd let you in on some of our favorite children's books. These are books that the girls would ask me to read again and again. Books I could probably recite in my sleep.

Some are probably books you've heard of and have probably read to your own kids, but I am willing to bet that there are a couple on this list that you have never heard of. Nevertheless, they are books that have become Wild-fam favorites.

I'll start with one of our favorites that I am almost 100% certain you've never heard of. I would probably rank it on the top of our most-read list when the girls were little. It's called Ba Ba Sheep Wouldn't Go to Sleep, and it's a sweet story about a little boy sheep who thought he'd just stay up all night long and what happens to little boys (and girls) who don't get enough rest.

Not that I ever had a child who didn't want to go to bed at night. Oh no. I wouldn't know anything about that at all.

Bad news about Ba Ba, though. It's hard to find. Our public library has it, and yours might too, but on Amazon you can only find used copies. Must be out of print. Which is a shame. It's such a good book!

Moving on. . . . When one of my girls was in first grade she came home and told me that her teacher had read them such a good book that day that she might have just cried a little bit in school. Well, when a book makes a little girl cry in school, I must know what it is. I'm ashamed to say that at that time, many years ago, I had never heard of this classic, but the book that made my daughter weep was Love You Forever.

If you've never read this book, you should. It'll make you weep, too.

Speaking of "love books," here's another classic that my girls absolutely loved (get it?!). Guess How Much I Love You. Oh, Little Nutbrown Hare, how I love you, too.

I bought this book for Kate when she was young because I liked the idea of the Jack and the Beanstalk story with a strong female character. Kate and the Beanstalk is a very funny twist on the original. Love it. Love Kate.

Love Mary Pope Osborne. (She came up with the Kate idea.)

One of my very favorite children's books of all time comes from Max Lucado. You Are Special is just so . . . well . . . special. It tells the tender story of Punchinello, a wooden Wemmick who has, unfortunately, listened to what others have said about him just a little too often. He is defeated, dejected, depressed. But the Carpenter offers some words of wisdom that change Punchinello's life.

Awesome book. I might just have to pull it out as we traverse those ugly junior high years again. And, you know, even parents can learn a little something from this book.

Finally, here's a book that I'm pretty sure none of you have ever hear of. Ever. And if you have, definitely let me know because I would love to be proven wrong about this. It's Edward Fudwupper Fibbed Big.

This is a wild, fun story that actually does teach kids a lesson about lying. And the great thing about this one is that boys will love it as much as girls, so if you have a boy who doesn't necessarily like to read, this might be a good choice.

One reason we loved this book so much is because my college roommate, Jennifer, brought it for the girls when she came to visit one time. It just reminds us of Jen, and it makes us laugh (so does Jen). A lot. In fact, I read this book to a classroom of elementary school kids once, and they all laughed and loved it too.

So there you go. A few good books to check out as we head into those long, lazy days of summer . . . if, of course, you have little kids.

But then again, these are so great that even if you don't have little kids you might just want to read them anyway.

So tell me, what are some of your favorites? What do your kids beg you to read over and over again? What books did you like when you were a kid?


Book Review - Food Rules

I grew up on a farm, so naturally I grew up with lots of good food around me. My mom was a fantastic cook, and she usually used fresh ingredients, making really good, simple meals.

My grandfather, who lived about a half mile down the road from me, had a huge garden in which he grew everything from broccoli to brussels sprouts, radishes to rhubarb. The colors in Grandpa's garden were glorious, and it always made me think of Mr. McGregor's garden from "Peter Rabbit." I still remember wandering up and down the rows of vegetables when I was a little girl.

So I guess you could call it my heritage or instinct or maybe just good, common sense that I call upon when I make food choices today. I've never been interested in pre-packaged food (too expensive for one thing), and I've never liked the idea of diet pop (hey, I'm a Midwesterner!). I like to cook, and I like to cook good food with top-notch ingredients. That just feels right to me.

Don't get me wrong--I am no earth-hugging, granola-chewing (although I do like granola), Birkenstock-wearing food nut. That is not and never will be me. It just makes me laugh to think that anyone would think I'm a health-food type of person. I'm SO not.

I don't like the idea of chemicals in my foods, though, and I do like the idea of buying my food at a farmer's market. So I guess if I need to go buy myself a pair of Birkies, so be it.

So when I came across this little book a couple of weeks ago while perusing the aisles of Borders for a while, I just knew I had to have it. It seemed to confirm a lot of what I had always thought about food, and yet it challenged me further.

Food Rules by Michael Pollan is a quick, easy read. You can get through it in one sitting. (Are you sensing a trend here?) *wink, wink*

In the book, Pollan talks about what we should eat ("Eat food"), what kind of food we should eat ("Mostly plants"), and how we should eat ("Not too much"). Common sense, right? These topics make up the three sections of the book, and each section reveals several "rules" that go along with it.

Here are some of my favorites.

Rule #2: "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." He uses Go-gurt as an example of this.

Rule #9: "Avoid food products with the wordoid 'lite' or the terms 'low-fat' or 'nonfat' in their names." He says that when the food manufacturers remove the fat they add carbohydrates to make the food taste better. You're just exchanging one for the other and probably eating more because of the false claim of the food being "lite."

Rule #20: "It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car." *gulp*

Rule #23: "Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food." I like this one a lot because I think we probably eat too much meat. But I also like the Pollon doesn't say, "Become a vegetarian." Ain't happenin', folks. But if I can think of meat as a flavoring, rather than as THE main course, I might not eat quite as much.

And I think this one is probably my MOST favorite (I sound like a little kid). Rule #39: "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself." Again, he's not saying you can't have fun every now and then. He's just saying that when you make cookies, brownies, or even french fries yourself at home you probably won't make them as often because they take so much time to make. Interesting point.

I think you get the idea. Food Rules gave me a lot to think about--stuff I'm still thinking about and will probably think about for a while. And the cool thing is that Kate read the book, too, and is thinking through the whole issue of "good" food versus "not-so-good" food, which is especially helpful since she'll be going to college soon and will be making her own choices about what to eat.

I really liked this book. You should get it.

The end.


Book Review - Lift

I realized today that I yammered on and on yesterday about how stupid I'd feel if I ever met Kelly Corrigan, but I never really told you much about her book, Lift.

Let me just tell you that this little book (only 82 pages) will make you weep. Not because it's sad--it is, just a little--but because every page is filled with love. Kelly freely shares her love for her two daughters, Georgia and Claire. She shares her heart, which is beautiful.

There were so many parts of this book that resonated with me. Sadly, sometimes. Kelly talks openly about losing control with her girls at times. Boy, could I relate. Seriously, I'd like to meet that parent who has never yelled, really yelled, at her kids. And that same parent who didn't regret it the moment it was over.

"Almost every day I yell at one of you so loudly that my throat hurts afterward. That's why I keep lozenges in practically every drawer in the house. I hold it together and hold it together and then, when the bickering picks up again, I just detonate. Like yesterday, Claire, when I listened to you whine through two rounds of some card game called Egyptian War. Finally, it was Georgia's turn to go first, and you said you couldn't play anymore because your armpits were sore. 'That's stupid,' Georgia said, and you cried, 'Stupid is a mean word!' and smacked Georgia with your open palm as I watched. 'GO TO YOUR ROOM RIGHT NOW, MISSY!' I hollered. 'It was an accident; I fell into her on accident!' You both froze and I got to my feet and I leaned down into your faces and ranted at you through set teeth, like the heartless tyrannical caretakers in a movies about orphans. I was so disgusted with both of you, your impatient overreactions, your loss of self-control--then I turned right around and disgusted myself."

And another section, just a few pages later to which I could totally relate:

"This tug-of-war often obscures what's also happening between us. I am your mother, the first mile of your road. Me and all my obvious and hidden limitations. That means that in addition to possibly wrecking you, I have the chance to give to you what was given to me: a decent childhood, more good memories than bad, some values, a sense of a tribe, a run at happiness. You can't imagine how seriously I take that--even as I fail you. Mothering you is the first thing of consequence that I have ever done."

Yes. That. What she said.

So, anyway, I'm giving away a copy of Kelly's book, Lift. You can still join in until Friday, so hop on over to yesterday's post and leave a comment to enter in the giveaway.


Oh yes, I'll wear the mantle proudly {giveaway}

Last night I did one of those things I do that may seem, well, kind of geeky and weird to you. I don't do it often because it's a little geeky and weird to me too, but I enjoy geeky and weird sometimes.

Last night I went to a book reading. At Talbots. (Geeky) Alone. (Weird)

But the author who was reading her work was one of my favorites--Kelly Corrigan. For a long time I've listed her memoir, The Middle Place
over on my sidebar. This is a book that has impacted me so much, not because I could relate to her story, but because the way it's written makes me relate to her story.

She is an amazing writer. The kind of writer I'd like to be when I grow up. Real. Honest. Vulnerable.

And a couple of weeks ago, when I found out she had a second book coming out I preordered it that day, received it a week ago, and read it in one sitting. So when I found out that Kelly was going to be in my neck of the woods I announced to my family, "I am going to see Kelly Corrigan!" And for the next week or so I continued to announce, "I am going to see Kelly Corrigan!"

Thank goodness my family understands my propensity for geeky and weird.

Last night was the big night and I almost chickened out. I mean, it takes a certain amount of guts to walk into a store all by yourself to possibly meet a writer you admire more than just about anyone. (We'll get to the meeting part in a second.) But Maggie pushed me to it when I expressed some doubt.

"Mom, you've been looking forward to this for a long time now. And besides, you like these things. You should go."

So I went.

I'm so glad I did because the event was really nice . . . fun even. I mean, how often do you walk in Talbots and someone immediately puts a glass of wine in your hand? Like, never. So it started out great. And then got even greater when they announced that everything in the store--everything, girls--was 20% off just for that night. Hello? Twenty percent off is my new best friend.

But the best part was seeing Kelly and hearing her read. I did not meet her, although our eyes met at one point and we smiled at each other, but I just could not go up and meet her. Here's why.

Remember the scene in "Notting Hill" where Honey, the crazy red-headed sister of William (Hugh Grant's character) meets Anna (Julia Roberts) for the first time and she gawks and gapes and then says, "I absolutely and totally and utterly adore you and I think you're the most beautiful woman in the world and more importantly I genuinely believe and have believed for some time now that we can be best friends"?

Yeah, well, I was totally afraid that would have been me last night if I had actually met Kelly Corrigan.

So I kept to myself.

I may regret that someday, but for today I'm O.K. with it. I just don't trust my blabbering mouth sometimes.

Alright, you've patiently read through this post, and now I'm going to give you the opportunity to get your very own copy of Kelly Corrigan's book, Lift. Remember the 20% off discount that Talbots was offering last night? Yeah, well, I just couldn't resist. But what I haven't told you yet was that they were also giving away a copy of Kelly's book with any purchase over $100.

What I won't do for my readers.

Since I already had a copy of the book, I'm offering my free copy to one lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment telling me either a) what book you're reading right now or b) what author would you make a complete fool of yourself in front of. I'll announce the winner on Friday.

(Make sure I have an email address for you so I can contact you if you win.)

Now, go make it a good day!


Book Review - Thin Places, A Memoir

Warning: the book you are about to read is real. It's raw. It's honest. If you like to keep things light and happy, this book is probably not for you. But if you want to read a true redemption story, give this one a try.

Mary DeMuth has done it again--she's made me think, made me wonder about life, and made me feel so grateful. Mostly, she's made me see God's hand in a new and wonderful way.

Just as I said about her previous novel, A Slow Burn, this book is not easy to read. Mary would probably be the first to tell you that she's had a tough life. Growing up with less-than-attentive parents was hard. Really hard. Mary experienced things that no little girl should ever have to experience, and as a mother of daughters, I do not say that lightly. Never. Ever.

My heart ached for Mary as I read her words, and yet, I rejoiced that the God of the Universe would reach down into all that brokenness and pick her out to proclaim His goodness. It's amazing, really, the picture of redemption that Mary's life paints.

With brutal honesty, Mary tells about her childhood abuse, her struggles on the mission field, and challenges in her marriage. Yet through it all, Mary shows how she has seen God in the "thin places" of her life--those places where He has lifted the veil, ever-so-briefly, and revealed Himself to her. It's beautiful to see how Mary weaves God's redemption into every aspect of her life.

I resonated with many of Mary's emotions, not because I have endured what she endured, but because she has chosen to honestly share her insecurities as a mom, as a wife, and as a person. I get that. Here are a couple of quotes that I really identified with:

"I am sitting with Sophie, Aidan, Julia, and Patrick [her children and husband] around our table. We are eating dinner and sharing our days. I battle inside
myself, wondering if I should share my frustrating day or just let it rest
securely inside my head. Such heaviness settles on me that I don't want to
infect my children. But when it's my turn, I make a snap decision to speak up.

'I have had a hard day,' I tell them. 'I got another book rejection.' I
expand the story, letting my family know the wrenching details. I take in a deep
breath. 'And here's the thing. When I'm rejected it sends me to this very dark
pit, to this place where I wonder if I'm worthy enough to take up space on this
earth.' I point my finger into the table. 'This space right here.'

'Mommy," Julia says. 'I love you. I'm so glad God made you to be my mommy.'

'I don't know where I"d be without you,' Sophie says.

'Please don't feel like that,' Aidan tells me.

'I love you.'Patrick grabs my hand.

In that embrace of words, I am home."

And in another chapter, she talks honestly about her own insecurities, something I could really relate to:

" . . . I'm insecure at heart.

I love to order my world. When others don't like me, my world breaks apart. And I panic. I can be secure when everyone approves.

. . . I drive myself nutty, all for the sake of wanting every single person on this earth to like me. Notice me. Not criticize me.

. . . Even though I know it's a lie, I tend to believe that in order to be valued and loved, I must never do anything to hurt anyone. Likewise, in order to love myself, I must never do anything wrong.

That sure doesn't leave room for grace, does it?"

But in her chapter on insecurity, Mary also says this: "It all comes down to who you want to like you." That line hit me squarely between the eyes. And in my heart. With that one line, Mary pointed me back to the cross and to Jesus, the only One whose opinion of me really matters.

And that's what this book does. Yes, it reveals a broken girl, a broken life, a broken world, but it also shows that the only opinion that really matters is of the One who redeemed our lives from the pit. Mary lifts our eyes and helps us see Him.

This morning, as I opened my Bible, I read Psalm 124. I was contemplating writing this review, and the passage seemed so fitting that I think I'll quote it here.

"What if the LORD had not been on our side?
Let all Israel repeat:
What if the LORD had not been on our side
when people attacked us?
They would have swallowed us alive
in their burning anger.
The waters would have engulfed us:
a torrent would have overwhelmed us.
Yes, the raging waters of their fury
would have overwhelmed our very lives.
Praise the LORD,
who did not let their teeth tear us apart!
We escaped like a bird from a hunter's trap.
The trap is broken, and we are free!
Our help is from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth."
Psalm 124 (NLT)


Book Review - A Slow Burn

You may have noticed that I don't do many book reviews on here. I'm not sure why I don't--it's not like I don't read books. I read lots of books. But I'm no book review writing expert. I always feel like I'd either be gushing or dissing, and neither sounds good. So I shy away from book reviews.

But Mary DeMuth asked if I'd do this one. Yeah, I know, it sounds like I know Mary. I don't really--unless you count a couple of emails we've exchanged and a brief encounter in the hallway at She Speaks last summer where I went up to her and made a complete babbling, fawning idiot out of myself. But let's just not go there for now.

Mary asked on her blog if anyone would like to review her book on their blog and I thought, "Sure! I'm all about free books!" so I signed up. I really enjoyed the first book in her Defiance, Texas trillogy, Daisy Chain, and I wanted to read the sequel anyway, so reading it for free was just a bonus.

I have to warn you, the book I'm about to review is a tragedy. Not so much in the Shakesperian sense of a tragedy, but still, it's rough, raw, and real. If you're looking for a perky, fun, not-too-deep book I'd say go find a Sophie Kinsella and park it there for a while. But if you're looking for an edgy, deeply moving book that will really make you think, you might just want to check this one out.

Like I said, A Slow Burn is the second in Mary's Defiance, Texas trillogy. It picks up right where Daisy Chain left off, with a deeply hurting mother, Emory Chance, trying to pick up the pieces of her sorry life after her daughter, Daisy, goes missing and is found dead. (It's tragic, remember?)

Throughout the book, Emory confronts demons of nearly every kind. A mother who neglected her. Men who used her. Drugs that have nearly killed her. Guilt that threatens to undo her.

And then there is God who is chasing her.

Emory fights them all, including God, with a surprising ending that left me, truthfully, wrung out.

But that's how Mary writes. She develops characters that you care about--even the unsavory ones. She creates a setting that is as dry as the souls of the characters and that leaves you craving a nice, cold glass of water.

This is not one of those Christian fiction books that ties everything up neatly with a bow at the end, which is probably why I enjoyed it. Rather, it leaves you thinking, wondering, pondering.

And yet you see God through it all. Speaking to, pursuing, and loving His children.

Just like real life.

Even though it's disturbing in many places and very hard to read at times, this is a book that makes you think about life, about relationships, and about God's place in it all. I have a feeling A Slow Burn is going to stay with me for a long time.

I Don't Even Do This for a Living

I think I'm probably just the sorriest excuse for a literature major that there ever was. Just ask my college roommate, Jen, who was a history/pre-med major, who studied ALL the time, and who used to chide me for not finishing all the books I was assigned.

Don't get me wrong, I loved my major. Loved it so much that when I was finished with my first four years, I went back for two more years of self-imposed torture. I love books, and I love reading them.

These days I actually finish them.

(Just a side chuckle here. When I told me ever-practical father that I had finally decided--after two previous majors--that literature was the one for me, he nearly blew a gasket. To this day we laugh about his reaction to the blessed news: "So, what are you going to do, read BOOKS for a living?!" Without missing a beat I said, "Yeah, Dad, if I have to.")

Often, when people find out that I majored in literature, or that I taught writing for a while, or that I like to read, they will ask me if I've read this or that book. Usually I just smile and shake my head and say, "No, I don't think I've read that."

Because chances are, I haven't.

Unless, of course, the book happens to fall in the chick lit genre of Sophie Kinsella or any one of the Miss Julia books by Ann B. Ross. Since having kids I haven't stretched myself all that much in the hard core literature area.

One book in particular, though, has continued to pop up in conversation over the past few years. How often I have felt like a complete dolt for not having read this book? How many times have people said, "I can't believe YOU haven't read that! You have to read it."

It's not that I hadn't tried to read Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. I had tried. I really had.

When the book first came out in 2001, I started to read it, but had to put it down for two reasons.

First, it's beautifully written, and when a book is beautifully written like this one is I have to take my time to savor each and every sentence--sometimes several times. The beauty of the language captivates me, truly, so it's laborious for me to read a book like that. A time-sucker, if you will.

At that point in my life I had three very small children--time was being sucked from me in many other ways.

And the second reason is because about 50 or 60 pages into the book something really terrible happens. Something so tragic that you just wonder how on earth this family is going to rise above the challenges it now faces. Honestly, my heart couldn't take it. The sadness of it all, the desperation, just got to me, and I stopped reading the book.

Leif, I'm so sorry.

But this week, before I got the flu, I started reading it again. This time I was determined to finish it. And then God made it possible for me to have plenty of time on my hands to read it.

I have to be honest, the first 50-60 pages dragged for me, just like the first time I read it. Then I got to the terrible spot again, and I wondered if I could continue. My heart was starting to ache again.

But I pushed on, determined to figure out why so many people I know count this among their very favorite books of all time.

Yesterday, amid basketball games and family goings on, I read Peace Like a River. I read and I read and I read. Until I finally put the book down, like a victorious conqueror, at midnight. With tears running down my face. As a changed person because of this book.

You just have to read it.

Why I may actually be forced to read one of my high school novels again.

True confessions time . . . I am not as culturally savvy as I should be. There are lots of some books I should have read that I haven't read. There are other books I've read that I wish I hadn't read.

I have a Master's degree in English, and I confess that I'm not a Tolkien fan.

There, I said it. It's out in the open now. If this makes me culturally illiterate, and I'm sure it does, you can stop reading my blog now. Click the "X" in the corner and never return.

But I feel much better. Like a load has been lifted from my shoulders.

I remember reading "The Hobbit" as a freshman in high school. I'm sure this is where my dislike of Tolkien began because, as I think about it now, I don't think I've attempted to read another of his books.

"The Hobbit" put me to sleep. I couldn't keep the characters straight. I didn't understand this make-believe world of the Hobbits. And what kind of a name is Bilbo anyhow?

Reading "The Hobbit" was sheer torture to me.

So when Maggie's fifth grade reading class read that same book a few weeks ago I was really worried. How could a fifth grader understand that book if I didn't get it as a freshman? And, worse, what if she needed help with her homework?

I talked to B about it, and he confessed that he, too, wasn't much of a Tolkien fan for the very same reason I wasn't. He had read "The Hobbit" somewhere down the educational line and didn't much like it either. Needless to say, we haven't seen "The Lord of the Rings" much less read it.

One night over dinner we got to talking about how Maggie was beginning the great Hobbit adventure, and Kate and Abby both confessed that they hadn't liked the book either. Yes, we're a family of Hobbit-haters!

But Maggie started reading the book every night, along with a tape we got from the library. She has an excellent reading teacher who explained the setting and the characters and even the subtle moral lessons along the way. A couple of weeks later, at dinner again, Maggie sheepishly confessed that she was actually sort-of-kind-of enjoying "The Hobbit."

(We haven't yet decided whether or not to kick her out of the family.)

This week she showed me her final project from her class's study of "The Hobbit." To say I was impressed is an understatement. She had filled a legal-sized page with all of the trials and confrontations Bilbo had encountered on his journey. Next to each trial was the lesson that Bilbo learned from it.

At the top of the chart was a large circle in which each student was to write the "most precious insight" that Bilbo learned through the book. Maggie wrote this: "Adventures (big or small) are important because you learn things."

I love that!

Have you read the quote at the top of my blog? Have you noticed my subtitle?

I wonder if, in some small way, Bilbo Baggins crept into my subconscience all those years ago and instilled in me some sense of adventure.

I wonder if I might actually be a Hobbit-lover after all.

Going Somewhere?

A few summers ago I decided to read the original "Dr. Doolittle" to the girls (the original title is . . . get ready for this . . . "The Story of Dr. Doolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed"--whew!). You know, the 1920 classic by Hugh Lofting that is nothing like the 1967 movie version with Rex Harrison and even less like the 1998 movie with Eddie Murphy.

One thing the book and the movies all have in common, though, is a character called the Pushmi-pullyu. I best remember it from the movie I watched as a kid. It was kind of like a siamese llama, all fluffy and white, with a head on each end.

This poor animal, though, didn't know which direction it was going. One head wanted to go one way; the other head wanted to go the other. Both heads had to really work together to get anywhere.

On a lot of days I feel like that poor Pushmi-pullyu.

Take today, for instance. It's President's Day, which means no school. Most of me wants to do something fun with the girls, like go see a movie or head to the mall. But what HAS to be done are dentist appointments, eye doctor appointments, laundry, music lessons, and getting one child to her job. Today will be a day when I'll be heading in all sorts of directions and probably not getting a lot done.

To widen the scope a little bit here, when I look at the future, I feel much like that Pushmi-pullyu, too. Do I want to keep my focus, as it has been for so many years, on being "Mom" to my girls? That's a wonderful thing and something I love doing. Or do I want to pursue other options that swirl around in my head? Writing? Speaking? Teaching? And if I pursued those options, when would be the right time to do that?

The tough thing about being at this point in my life is that I could spend years wandering around, contemplating, wondering which direction to move. And nothing would get done. I don't want that to happen.

But here's the great thing. I have options. We all do, whether we realize it or not. Yes, I feel pushed and pulled in all directions right now, but that's O.K. Maybe that's just what life is all about.

How about you? Are you being pushed and pulled? What are the options facing you right now?

(Just a note: if you have kids and are looking for something good to read with them this summer, check out Hugh Lofting's "Dr. Doolittle" books--there are several. You might enjoy one of them as much as we did.)