2020 book list and a request for recommendations

Keeping a book list in the back of my planner has helped tremendously with my reading the last few years. I create the list in January, and then add or change it as the year progresses. If I read only a handful of books, I’ll be happy — but somehow, making a list and knowing what’s going to come next (and being able to get a hold of them promptly) means reading many more than that! Also, it’s awfully fun to remember what I’ve read, and the score I gave them on a scale of 1-10.

So, here’s what I read in 2020:

The Measure of Success (completed), 4/10

A Girl of the Limberlost, 8/10

Coddling of the American Mind, 10/10


In the Garden of Beasts, 9/10


Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy, 9/10


In My Father’s House, 8/10


The Grand Escape, 8/10


Stop Calling Me Beautiful, 6/10


The Green Glass Sea, 10/10


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, 7/10


The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, 8/10


Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, 9/10


We Were the Lucky Ones, 10/10


The Book Thief, 8/10


Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, 10/10


The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, 10/10


In the Enemy’s House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies, 8/10


Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, in progress

What should I read this year? Let me know your recommendations!

faith comes by hearing

Faith comes by hearing.

What are you listening to?

Are you growing in a belief of discouragement and despair, or of confidence in the faithfulness of God?

What are you listening to?

I’ve thought about that a lot this past month, as my soul has felt stretched and the ears of my heart have been ringing with the testimony of others whose lives point to the truth of God. My reading this past month has included several amazing stories that have been more than stories: they have been voices from that cloud of witnesses, testifying that God is more than enough. They tell me that one person, set free from living for self, liberated into a lively hope, can affect the world — even if that world is simply their young child, their neighbor, their fellow believer. I cannot recommend highly enough that you consumption, your soul diet, include stirring reminders that we really can live for Jesus.

Faith comes by hearing. What are you listening to?

2019 recap: books

The week between Christmas and a brand new year is never long enough for me, but I especially think we should get extra time given that we’re starting a new decade — don’t you agree? I need a few more days to (well, let’s be honest) finally get gifts put away which first means organizing cupboards and buying a few new totes and such. But also, after all of that, a few days to just sit and think about this past year, this past ten years, and to begin looking ahead to what comes next.

Oh wait. Sitting and thinking doesn’t happen in my world no matter how many extra days you give me. (Sound track right now: “Mom, can I do play doh?” “Mom, my doll’s hair looks weird.” “Mom, I need a blanket.” And this, as we’re all sitting quietly together.)

But quiet or not, enough time or not, before putting the lid on 2019 and all it held, it seems a bit of reminiscing and thankfulness is appropriate.

This morning, just one aspect of 2019 I especially enjoyed: my reading list!

I have slowly learned more about myself in this role of mother and how to set myself up for success. I truly enjoy reading, but it doesn’t just happen without intention. I also enjoy reading but am not interested in it becoming the top priority of my life. Setting a reasonable goal that will keep me disciplined but not turn me into a book-slave is important. Three things that helped me this year:

A List.
In the back of my planner, I started a list of 12 titles I intended to read this year. I had about 4 books in mind right from the start, and as other titles piqued my interest, I added them. I never had to wonder what to read next, which can often result in not reading at all.

Options.
I kept the next two or three titles ready to read at all times, because sometimes a certain book was too heavy to plow through quickly and I would mix in a lighter option. Also, seeing that there were more books to read kept me motivated to continue.

A Plan.
I keep my books near me. I bring them to the bedroom when I nurse the baby. I bring them to the family room when I think I’ll have a few minutes to read during the afternoon. I take it with me outside when the kids are playing. I limit apps on my phone that steal reading time, or purpose to read in the evening while the baby plays instead of just turning on Hometown or whatever. Not always — sometimes I just need a brain break. (I don’t want to be a book-slave!) But keeping it nearby reminds me to pick up my book first instead of just ingesting brain candy in my down time.

A Crossed-Off List!
And then back to that list: how satisfying to check off the titles, jot down my thoughts, and move on to the next. And, surprise surprise, having a list helped me so much that before I knew it, I was adding title after title and my “12 books this year” easily and without any effort grew to 17 (with four books underway.) I know that’s not incredibly impressive, as far as reading goals go, but as a habit-builder, all of these strategies are really helping me.

I share these because maybe some of these strategies will help you, too, or maybe just realizing strategies are worth creating in order to achieve some reading goals. Maybe 12 titles is laughable to you, or maybe just reading three books this year would be an achievement — whatever it may be, making a plan for important things, a plan that fits into your overarching life priorities, can make all the difference.

For my own benefit! The books I read this year:


Gods and Generals, Jeff Shaara, 7/10


Designed for Joy, Owen Strachen et al, 7/10


The Vanishing American Adult, Ben Sasse, 10/10


Educated, Tara Westover, 7/10


Gay Girl Good God, Jackie Hill Perry, 10/10


Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, 10/10


Lies Women Believe, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, in progress


Discipline: The Glad Surrender, Elisabeth Elliot, in progress


Killer Angels, Michael Shaara, 10/10


All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, 8/10


O Pioneers!, Willa Cather, 10/10


My Antonia, Willa Cather, 9/10 (re-read)


Choosing Gratitude, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, 9/10


Peace Child, Don Richardson, 10/10 (re-read)


The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Rosaria Butterfield, 10/10


Saplings, Noel Streatfeild, 9/10


German Boy, Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, 10/10


They Thought They Were Free, Milton Mayer, 9/10


I Dared to Call Him Father, Bilquis Sheikh, 10/10


Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys, 10/10


The Measure of Success, Carolyn McCulley, in progress


A Girl of the Limberlost, Gene Stratton Porter, re-read in progress

power of thanks.

We have one long hallway in our single-story ranch house, with bedroom doors on either side. Narrow, functional, efficient — which, I suppose, are the guiding principles of this house design — and for the first several years of life here, it really was just a way from here to there. Then a couple of winters ago, I turned the blank white walls into a family album of sorts, moments of time captured and framed in black or white. A nod here and there to where Ryan and I came from, but mostly, days we’ve shared with our kids. Two smiling boys in matching PJs in sunny California. Beatrice and her dimples sitting on a blanket in our green yard. Ryan surrounded by five beaming kiddos on an Adirondack hike. Strawberry shortcake about to be devoured by freckled, sun-burned, grinning kiddos. A few were taken on family trips — sisters in Battery Park, a quiet moment enjoying Trout Lake — but for the most part, these aren’t commemorating spectacular vacations or events. They just celebrate moments of joy, relationships, regular life that we are blessed to live together.

Recently, on a rather gray, Eeyore-ish day, I was walking down the hallway alone when the photos caught my eye. I stopped and instead of just straightening them (as is my usual habit), I looked at them. Photo after photo, moment after moment, gift after gift, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by the richness of grace in my life. If those 20 pictures represented the only wonderful days in my life, it would still be so much more than I deserve. It wasn’t a cliché moment; I was sincerely struck by how I, lost in trespasses and sins, have not only been delivered from death and brought into sweet, daily fellowship with Jesus — He has also given me 20 moments of beauty and joy and relationship and so many more besides.

How entitled I can become. How deceived I am, not seeing the goodness of God in my very breath. Fixated on the wrong, the “lack”, completely missing the abundance and grace. A soul, fat with blessing and overflowing with gifts, somehow seeing itself as shriveled and underfed — what a strange delusion to live in. And so rivers of blessing, meant to gush with generosity to those around us, become stagnant ponds of cynicism and comparison and complaints.

And how good to lift eyes to heaven, to a Father who gives every good and perfect gift. To begin to utter thanksgiving, and find the dam of ingratitude bursts apart and that river of life-giving water flows to every part of your soul and overflows to every aspect of your life. Faith, hope, love — they come to life again, joy empowering it all.

*****

This photo-wall moment has taken on greater impact, thanks to the book that arrived in the mail after I’d forgotten all about even ordering it (gotta love the surprise factor of shopping used books + slow shipping speeds!). Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy has already (only several chapters in!) given me so much to ponder and repent of. The Word of God, which this book is full of, is a mirror, helping us to see what’s really in our hearts — and living and powerful enough to work change as we receive it with faith.

*****

Blessings all mine with ten thousand besides:

winter is for reading

The best way to enjoy winter, I find, is to embrace it. There are many moments spent by a warm fire, and there’s nothing like a basket of favorite winter-time books to make those moments more irresistible.

I’ll share the books in my winter book basket, but I’d love to know: what are some of your seasonal favorites? Ours have been read many, many times over, and a few new titles would sure be a treat!

*****


Gingerbread Baby


The Hat


Bear Snores On


Snow


The Snowy Day


Katy and the Big Snow


Winter Poems (Rogasky)


Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening


Owl Moon


Warm as Wool



Snowflake Bentley and Snowflakes in Photographs


Flannel Kisses


A Winter Day

making home

IMG_0070-1
Mulligatawny Soup — a comforting favorite!

Did you know that “homemaker” isn’t just a placeholder on an application for people whose lives are so lame they don’t leave home? It actually is an occupation — and more, it’s a calling. Homes, in fact, don’t just happen; they are made, and someone has to do that making. It is a gender specific calling for the wise woman who will give herself to the task. It is a calling that fosters the building of people, of families, and of culture. It is way more than a placeholder.

This atmosphere that we’re called to cultivate (first in our own souls, and then by extension in our domain) will look unique in each home. Isn’t that beautiful? I love the many expressions of God’s Kingdom that erupt in the earth as homes are established to His glory. Because I am the homemaker here, our signs of “home culture” may look a lot like reading aloud together, listening to classical music in the morning and classic jazz in the evening, ethnic food and Dutch oven meals, flowers in the summer and candles in the winter, and pretty things here and there. That’s me. But I remember a friend’s home from my childhood, a place of incredible joy and warmth and togetherness — full of mountains of mismatched tupperware dishes that we took turns washing our way through (because there was always, always at least one visitor), loud laughing and boisterous play, and an evening of fun looked like making candy and pulling the sticky ropes halfway across the kitchen in our buttered hands. I don’t remember a single candle or any bouquets, but I remember knowing that my friend wanted to be home with her family more than anywhere else in the world.

The expressions will differ, but the mandate remains the same for women throughout time and the world over: to build a place where people find the flavor of heaven, and where souls are ministered to through their physical needs. Our five senses absorb life, and as homemakers, we touch hearts through the sounds and scents and scenes and food (don’t forget the food!) we provide.

Some things won’t differ. All of the above things, in and of themselves, are so empty. Even Miles Davis is a clanging cymbal if there isn’t love, I guess you could say. First and foremost, there is Jesus. He has a culture that doesn’t bend, no matter where or when it’s being expressed. The Kingdom of Heaven is righteousness, peace, and joy. Our homes need to be places where right living is upheld and repentance is a well-learned skill; where peaceful living and peaceable living mean turning from worry and stress, and saying a hard NO to strife in our relationships; and where joy is sought and cultivated. Those things aren’t natural for any of us, but they are for the Holy Spirit, and He has come to make His home in us. We don’t have to settle for less, although those things will be a lifelong pursuit.

We establish those gospel things as non-negotiables, but then we allow the talents, giftings, and tastes of ourselves (and our husbands) to shape the form it all takes.

It’s a worthwhile task. Nations are shaped right here in our kitchens.

Some places to get started:

The Little Book of Hygge — a totally secular book, but with lots of practical ideas for how to cultivate a sense of being present, and making home a place of enjoyment.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking — a classic that I just love. She touches on every aspect of home, the biblical importance of what we do, and lots of practical ideas for how to do it.

The Life Giving Home — if the previous title is a bit dated for your taste, this book says many of the same things in a more updated setting.

The Little House books — because honestly, Ma is my hero. She makes home and hygge in a dugout on the side of a hill. Ladies, we can do this!