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March Quick Lit 2018

Time for some Quick Lit reviews! I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy and other book bloggers to talk about what we’ve read lately Hop on over and find more book recommendations than you’ll know what to do with (which in book-speak, is a very good thing)!

Winter has decided to stay forever. It did not ask our permission, because if it had, we would have said “No.” Emphatically, no. I’m attempting to embrace what will actually be the last few weeks of winter, whether that surly season likes it or not, but it’s similar to when you try to embrace those middle of the night feedings with your sweet newborn baby….you really just need to sleep, and we really just want spring. The silver lining is that winter weather keeps me under my favorite electric blanket with a book in hand. Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past month.

Fiction

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

I posted on Instagram that I am in love with all the characters from this book, and I really can’t give higher praise to a novel than that. The setting was pretty swell, too, aside from being central to the plot. This book is middle-grade novel perfection, and I would recommend it to anyone, young or old, but especially to people who enjoyed The Penderwicks, The Saturdays, All in a Family, and other family narratives. The theme of an older neighbor who is the grumpiest creature known to mankind is also here, so if you’re a fan of A Man Called Ove or any number of misanthropic character books, you might just love The Vanderbeekers, too.

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers – I’d put this at the top of my favorite adult fiction read in the past year list. Debut novelist Sara Ackerman tells a tender yet fascinating and page turning story that was not overly sweet (no pun on the title intended) or shockingly harsh. I have read a lot of books set in WWII Europe, but I know next to nothing about the Pacific battlefront, so this was a nice change. Set in Hawaii as soldiers are being sent there to prepare for the invasion of Japan, the plot centers on one family’s strange struggle to find their missing husband/father and to understand the many different kinds of love between family and friends. Could I have done without some of the romance? Yes, but I’m glad it stuck to a PG level. Highly recommend for fans of historical novels and especially fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (though it is not at all written in the same format).

Little Fires Everywhere – This book is well written literature, with all kinds of perfectly fine-tuned details, symbolism, foil characters, universal themes…the list could go on.  It’s got some pretty hard subject matters and adult content, so I wouldn’t turn to this one if you’re looking for a light, beachy read, but it is a great book club pick and will get you thinking from many different perspectives on parenthood, community, and friendship.

The Bookman’s Tale – Though the story has a fun National Treasure type twist to it, I wouldn’t recommend this book very highly. I finished it because it was a book club pick, but it was slow going through unbelievable characters and settings, with way too much detail about some things and far too little about other important components of the story.

Non-fiction

Mom Set Free: Find Relief From the Pressure to Get it All Right – Though simplistic in writing style at times, the message of this book is something I desperately need in my parenting journey. Jeannie Cunnion points our parenting and our treatment of our own selves back to the gospel. I know this is going to be a slow conversion for me, a doer and an authority pleaser at heart, but I truly think it’s worth the trying. I really appreciate all the Bible verses Cunnion quotes throughout the book and the list she gives in the back of verses that she references.

If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free – I wasn’t planning on reading Jamie Ivey’s memoir, but a friend told me she really liked it and let me borrow it, and I’m seriously glad she did (thanks, Erica!). Yes, Ivey tells a story that is messy and vulnerable, but she doesn’t tell it because she feels like spilling her guts – there is an intense purpose to her writing and she constantly points her readers back to the cross and Jesus’ love for us. There’s a chapter at the end called “Sin-shame” about how we treat others who are vulnerable in what they share with us that really convicted me. I was surprised by how great this book was. It was easy to get into, but it was also deep; I was expecting something a lot lighter from the host of a podcast titled The Happy Hour. =)

Comforts from the Cross: Celebrating the Gospel One Day at a Time – Can you tell I’m pretty gospel-focused these days? It’s incredible that I’ve been following Christ since I was an itty-bitty five-year-old yet I can’t seem to accept or give grace and free, unconditional love in my daily thoughts and actions. This devotional has been awesome, even though it has a Chicken Soup for the Soul type title that makes me cringe a little. I’m finding it a great follow up to the devotional Gracelaced, which adored last summer. That’s two more devotionals than I’ve ever enjoyed before, so maybe my feelings on devotionals in general are turning.

Girl, Wash Your Face – I’m listening to this one on audio and still have about 25% left. Having no familiarity with Rachel Hollis before reading this book, I didn’t know what to expect. It has a lot of “own your life” themes. The central idea is we shouldn’t believe lies about ourselves. Sometimes it feels too much like a “girl power” memoir and sometimes I’m left breathless at the insights from this down-to-earth lady who has done a lot and seems pretty different from me but maybe really isn’t. It’s a good treadmill audiobook, if you’re in the market for one of those. I admit, I was mostly grabbed by the title.

That rounds out what Quick Lit for this month. Happy reading, everyone!

Parenting, Picture Books, Reading

Jesse Bear – Our Favorite Books for Preschoolers

Things are pretty busy around here, and I have some great new releases to review for you soon, but I wanted to do a quick post about our current favorite books for the preschool picture book crowd. Check these out if you have little people in your life!

If Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the show parents want their preschoolers watching, the Jesse Bear books are the books all parents should want their preschoolers reading. I didn’t know about these books when my oldest two were ages 2-4, but my three-year-old and I have recently fallen in love with them. Each book in the series follows a lovable little bear who is experiencing life and the world around him with a cheerful expression and an enthusiastic eagerness to learn. There’s an enjoyment in every day, normal life that’s contagious in these books.

Our favorite is Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? Jesse gets up and dressed and ready for his day, with rhyming words and pleasant illustrations that take readers through a day with Jesse until it’s time to get back into his pajamas. A close second favorite is Better Not Get Wet, Jesse Bear, which shows Jesse Bear bursting with longing to get wet as he goes through a summer day helping his mom and dad around the house until he finally gets to splash in his very own pool. In Guess Who’s Coming, Jesse Bear, the little bear learns to deal with an older cousin who he isn’t excited to spend time with at first, but soon learns big cousin Sarah isn’t so bad after all.

Every Jesse Bear book is perfectly illustrated by Bruce Degan (Jamberry) and will make you want to go hug a teddy bear and a toddler at the same time. There’s a Jesse Bear book about waiting for Christmas and one about counting, and several more we haven’t read it in this ten-book series.  I hope you and your little people enjoy the Jesse Bear books as much as we do! We’ll be grabbing a few more of these (and the new Fancy Nancy book!) the next time we go to the library.

Happy reading!

Everyday Life, Parenting

Best Valentine’s Day Gifts for Kids (That They’ll Use All Year Long!)

In two days, Valentine’s Day will be here! Did it sneak up on you like it did me? I mean, wasn’t it just Christmas? I love this holiday, but it sort of presents a conundrum. It feels like we don’t need one solitary extra item around here, but the front shelves at every store are stuffed with giant pink unicorns and candy hearts as big as your kid’s head. Those sorts of gifts can absolutely say, “I love you!” loud and clear, but they can also give you a big headache…”Where are we going to put this thing?” or “how can I sneak away half of this candy without them knowing?” So! If you need some last minute ideas for what to give the kids in your life this Valentine’s Day, grab something both thrilling to kids and useful to them, too! (Yes, it is possible, trust me). Here are some ideas to replace all the stuffed minions and candy:

  1. Baking kits – Put together a little cookie dough and some fun cookie cutters and Voila, everyone is excited. Throw in an apron and it’s a gift that can be kept for years. Bonus: aprons are an easy way to use up bigger scraps of fabric if you happen to be a crafty person with remnants hanging around your crafting closet. (Props to Aunt Destiny for this classic at our house!)
  2. Card games – Old Maid,  Go Fish, or for older kids, a fun travel sized game could be a great gift. My oldest daughter (8) really loves the game Authors.
  3. A special mug that’s kid-sized and a packet of hot chocolate – Can anything say I love you every time you use it more than a mug picked especially for you? 
  4. Sticker books – For kids 3 or 4 and up, a sticker book can be hours of entertainment that’s screen free and no mess!
  5. Temporary tatoos – This is what my kids will be getting this Valentine’s Day from me! The metallic ones are especially fun, but be prepared to scrub them off with some coconut oil because they will stick around for weeks (ask me how I know…).
  6. Cups with lids and straws – We call these our smoothie cups. I grabbed them on whim for Valentine’s Day last year and the kids use them several times a week still!
  7. Play-doh or modelling clay
  8. Bubble bath
  9. Books – Obviously. Try your very best to pick something the child you love will actually enjoy reading…maybe not a gushy Valentine’s book? Not saying they’re bad! Just…you know…get something kids like to read, k? ; ) [Check out our favorites in this category here and here].
  10. Pajamas – Okay, okay, this has a reputation as being the classic underwhelming gift, but actually, my kids love receiving new pajamas.
  11. Rainy day gear – rain boots, umbrellas, a poncho – all great fun for rainy days of late winter and early spring!
  12. An invitation – Kids love time spent together more than anything else. Make an invitation for your kids to go get ice cream, go to a movie, or whatever fun thing would be special for you and them. Easy and maybe the best gift in this whole list.

Okay, now hurry, Valentine’s Day is in two days! I hope it’s full of warmth and joy for you and your children (and throw in a little candy, too…).

 

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Everyday Life

What’s Saving My Life, 2018 Edition

We’re halfway there! Halfway through winter, that is. How’s this season been for you? Where I live, it’s been the coldest winter in years and the flu has hit record numbers.  Joy. When I say, “Yay, we’re halfway through!” what I’m really thinking is “I cannot believe we’re only halfway through.” It’s been winter for forever. But! Whether or not the Groundhog sees his shadow today, we have a ways to go.

To get us through this often doldrum-ish time of year, we’re asking the question, “What’s Saving Your Life Right Now?” I’m once again linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy and other bloggers on this mid-winter day to share some of the little things that are making life easier or more enjoyable this winter. Join us in focusing on the good stuff!

  1. Grocery Pick-Up + Plan to Eat – Life. Saved. Weekly. I never thought I would be a mother who couldn’t stand taking her children grocery shopping with her. Oh, but I am that mother x 20. Now, I can simply make a meal plan on Plan To Eat and then put everything from my Plan to Eat list into a cart online at a grocery store (several stores do this but the closest one to us is Walmart), and someone else will get all the stuff for me! And check it out and put it in bags! All I have to do is show up and put it in my car. Yes, thank you. Sure, some mistakes are made, but heck, some mistakes are made when I do my own shopping. It’s a no-brainer for me right now. And my adoration for Plan To Eat could take up a whole post on its own. I have been using it for three years and I hope to never, ever stop. All my recipes are there, and all I have to do is drag them onto the calendar on the day I want to serve them. Then, Plan to Eat generates a shopping list. I loathed meal planning before I started using Plan to Eat. Now it’s not so bad!
  2. Homemade trail mix – Did anyone ever tell you before you had kids that they would be hungry ALL the time? Maybe people told me and I just didn’t understand, but now I do. Therefore, I’m always on the hunt for semi-healthy snacks. My two middle kids snack on their self-made trail mix almost daily. Maybe it’s such a hit because they get to put chocolate chips in it, and they aren’t allowed to have the chocolate chips without other additions. I guess it goes back to this:

Image result for everything is better with chocolate chips meme

But if you can’t have the chocolate chips without the raisins, well then, where I live, you eat the raisins, too.

Image result for illy coffee3. Illy Coffee – New favorite splurge! It’s so rich and delicious. And also pricey, compared to our usual Seattle’s Best/Elixer of Life, but sometimes I find it marked down at T.J. Maxx and then I try not to shriek with glee in the middle of the store.

4. Electric Mattress Pad – I love warmth so much, and hate cold equally. I told myself this is the year I would finally buy some flannel sheets and save myself from freezing cold cotton sheets, but my husband beat me to the punch and purchased this thing when it was on sale before Christmas. It’s heavenly. The only downside is getting out of bed fifteen times a night with little ones is extra difficult.

5. Google Keep– When I’m overwhelmed with tasks and things to remember, I go back to the Facebook Live video by Aimee Kolmansberger that made me realize my brain is meant for focusing and creating and not keeping all the things organized and at the forefront of my mind. A lot of times, the overwhelm will happen when I’m driving or in the middle of something else. Enter technology! I like Google Keep because I can open a note in the app, click the mic button and start telling the app everything I have to do. Then I can go back to it later on my computer or phone and make a plan of attack when I have time to do that. I also keep notes of funny things my kids say, stuff I need to put in Baby books (one day), or books to check out at the library. Another perk of Google Keep is my husband and I can share grocery lists and to-do lists and whatever other notes. It’s like a shared bulletin board that goes with us everywhere. I’m a fan!

6. Seashell wreath – When I look at this wreath above my desk, I remember that there is such a thing as summer, sand, waves and warmth. I’m transported to Oak Island, NC, our family’s vacation spot since I was a little girl. My mom made this wreath for me for Christmas from seashells she has gathered over the years, and it’s by far my favorite home decor in my house right now.

7. The Psalms – I decided to read a Psalm a day in 2018. Best decision of the year so far.

8. The Great British Baking Show – I don’t like to cook a whole lot, but I’m actually inspired by this show. It makes cooking/baking into something more than drudgery. Maybe it’s the English country side and the soft music, but all of a sudden, I kind of feel like an artist when I craft something for my family. I get new ideas and I also relax and watch a TV show, which is a novelty in and of itself! Last week I up and decided to make a homemade chicken pot pie because of this show, and it actually turned out beautifully.

9. Thriftbooks. Even better than The Book Depository! For all your old book needs (which are mammoth in my life).

So those are the small things saving my life this winter! And all of the things on my last winter’s list are definitely still in my daily mix of favorites as well. What’s on your list? I hope the rest of your winter is short and wonderful!

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Winter Reads – January 2018 Quick Lit

Hello! Welcome to January Quick Lit, when readers around the web recount what we’ve read recently. I’m linking up to this event at Modern Mrs. Darcy. Be sure to join in the fun and get way more book recs than I can ever give you!

2017 has come and gone, and already is becoming a blur. I finished with the lowest number of books read in a year probably since I learned to read in kindergarten. 2017 was a different kind of year. However, I did manage to read several books to round out 2017. My last “Books I have Read” update was in September! And two of them definitely qualify as being very wintery in theme. Here’s the quick lit run down.

Fiction

News of the World – 3 Stars – This is the story of an older man living as a sort of newspaper-reading gypsy in the post-Civil War midwest. He begrudgingly takes charge of a recovered German-American child that had been captured by Native Americans. The book has good characters and a vivid setting. I would have liked it better if it had been longer, I think, more detailed and more developed. Also, parts of the storyline was too hard for me to handle (children being stolen from their parents …hard stuff). I might have gotten taken in too easily by the cover and title on this one. It’s a great title, right?

Anna and the Swallow Man – 1.5 Stars – I still have no idea what the point of this book was. It started out very like The Book Thief or a similar WWII account set in Europe, but man did it veer into left field after that. It was bizarre and eerie. I even tried doing some research on this one and came up with no answers. People who are giving it good reviews, please tell me what in the world it’s about! And why you like it! As of right now, it’s not one I’d recommend.

Salt to Sea – 4 Stars – Fascinating, historical, well-researched and based on facts, and even includes some very likable characters…also, it’s a page turner. The details are stark and unflinching, though. I actually had a hard time sleeping after reading this one. I think if you in general like WWII books, you will like this one, but I will say it’s hard to stomach in places, as most WWII books set in Eastern Europe are. Ruta Sepetys is an incredible writer. I felt like I was a freezing cold war refugee in Eastern Germany while reading this book. She makes everything come alive. It’s an excellent novel by a great writer about an event I was completely (blissfully) unaware of before, but it’s not a cozy or comfortable read.

You Bring the Distant Near – 3.5 Stars – A great YA book that put Indian-American family life into new perspective for me, especially when it comes to families with daughters. I appreciated the hopeful and bright tone of the book. Not necessarily plot driven but very well written and a beautiful book.

Nonfiction

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed– 5 Stars – This book goes to the core of so much I wrestle with these days. Most of these questions or struggles go back to motives. I can’t say this book suddenly gave me every answer and made life easy, but it shook my thinking patterns out of their ruts. Here’s my favorite part of the description of the book:

We may be “wasting” ourselves in a hidden corner today: The cubicle on the fourth floor. The hospital bedside of an elderly parent. The laundry room. But these are the places God uses to meet us with a radical love. These are the places that produce the kind of unhinged love in us that gives everything at His feet, whether or not anyone else ever proclaims our name, whether or not anyone else ever sees.

I will be reading this book again.

That wraps up this quick lit edition! I’m currently in the middle of five (yes, five) books, so February’s quick lit could be quite the lineup. Assuming I can actually finish those books before my library loan runs out…Happy reading!

For more Quick Lit reviews on Miathereader.com, just click the Quick Lit tag under the title of this post. I hope this site helps you find a great read!

Children's Books

Three Silly Books to Beat Winter Blahs

Hello, readers, and welcome to 2018! What a year 2017 was for our little (big?) family. There were days that had me reeling, but all the hard parts were tied to rich blessings. Some of you may know what I’m talking about when I say I’m coming out of a long newborn fog (baby Lydia is 10 months but I guess new-mother-fatigue is compounded by the number of children). Homeschooling is great but takes time and mental energy. All that to say, I took an unplanned blogging break for the last 3 months and missed it quite a lot, but at least I didn’t take a break from feeding everyone lunch or washing clothes, you know? I’m hopeful 2018 will be a great year of reading and writing.

So now, back to the reading and sharing of books!

Every kid and his or her mother needs a slew of silly books to get them through these cold winter days. The stir crazy is at an all time high here. So today I’m sharing our latest favorite silly picture books in hopes that they might lighten the spirits in your home as well.

25689038We’re all crazy about Nobody Likes a Goblin, especially six-year-old Isaac and three-year-old Violet. It has a fable, Hobbit-ish feel to it (or maybe it does just to us because The Hobbit was Dad’s read-aloud to the kids book in the Fall), and the characters that could be ghoulish simply end up being cute and endearing. The illustrations are surprisingly detailed for a cartoon-looking book and give you a feel that everything is actually moving in front of you. The characters and the setting give so much scope for the imagination. Ben Hatke is the author/illustrator of Julia’s House of Lost Creatures, which we also adore for all the same reasons we love Nobody Likes a Goblin. Basically, we’re Hatke fans here.

22571266We’re also giggling at Sleeping Cinderella and Other Princess Mix-Ups. This rhyming story about traditional fairy tale princesses who get fed up and walk out of their respective tales into another princess’s is a classic “grass is always greener” story with a twist. I particularly sympathize with Cinderella’s plot line of being too tired to go to a ball and wanting to trade places with Sleeping Beauty. Sign me up for that one. Honestly, we all laugh at this book! It is an added bonus that it’s a friendly reminder that nobody’s life is perfect. And in the end, each princess figures out a way to make her real life work better instead of abandoning it. It’s silly, unrealistic, but fun and a bit philosophical (or maybe that’s just for me…).

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Tiger Can’t Sleep has been in the toddler class at our church for a few years and my kids want to read it every single week. Again, I sympathize with the poor kid who just wants to go to sleep but can’t because the pesky tiger who lives in his closet has way too much energy. Did a mother of a toddler write this book?? The silliness doesn’t stop with the ending, which is the best kind of book when you’re two or three. =)

That wraps up our favorite picture books of this week! We are going to the library today to hopefully stock up on more fun books to get us through the coldest week we’ve seen in years. I hope you and yours stay warm and enjoy some fun books together this winter, as well!

Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

How The Small Things Become The Big Things

Do you ever feel like you’re in the middle of living out a theme? Like all the messages you run into or the conversations you have come back to this one idea, even if you’re not trying to bring it up?

There’s an obstinate theme in my life right now, and the theme is this: the big things and the small things in life are not that different.

Or, more poetically speaking, the small and unseen minutes we live add up to the grand, sweeping, epic whole. Tiny thoughts, words, and actions are the grains of sand that make up the whole.

Image result for the painted desert

It’s a big thing to exercise. It’s a small thing to take a walk. It’s a big thing to be a friend. It’s a small thing to have a conversation. It’s a big thing to feed your kids for an entire childhood. It’s a small thing to make a comforting recipe on a weeknight. It’s a big thing to love someone with your whole heart. It’s a small thing to look straight into the eyes of your child when he’s telling you about the Transformer he’s pretending to be while you’re trying to cook dinner. The small and the big get blurry when we stare at them together.

Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a LifeI didn’t know this big vs. small idea was the ground rock of Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up A Life, the newest release from NY Times Bestseller (and the writer of the first blog I ever followed) Melanie Shankle. I signed up to be on her book launch team almost blindly, because all her books are delightful and her blog in its early days spoke straight into my middle-of-the-night pacing with my firstborn and gave me the gift of humor with a shot of perspective. (Being on the book launch team just means I get to read the book early and review it, not that I’m paid or have any incentives for getting others to buy it or anything like that). Now, I can honestly say this is her best book yet, a perfect combination of funny and wise musings about the way a life lived in the small moments is a life worth living wholeheartedly. Better still, it fully forms the thoughts surfacing in my own life about purpose and faithfulness.

Shankle “had me at hello” when her introduction began with the Biblical account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a boy’s lunch because she basically asks, “what about the boy’s mother who probably packed the lunch?” I love how she muses about what the mother could’ve been thinking that morning and how the last thing she would have expected was a miracle to come from that packed lunch. You probably know that feeling of doing something so minute as packing a lunch, you’re not even really thinking about it, or if you are, you’re wishing you had something better to give your kid and what is a Bento box anyway? Shankle’s position is that all those little moments of faithfulness are shaping you and shaping the people around you. How true. More often than not, it’s the ordinary faithfulness, the staying instead of going and the hidden jobs that have no platform, that make a person’s character.

It’s easy to resent the never ending meal prep, the staff meeting you are wishing yourself out of, the paperwork you just did, or whatever seemingly unimportant and repetitive task you wake up to day after day. We all feel that way. Here’s my favorite quote about this from the book:

Nothing is wasted when we view it through the lens of what God has for us in whatever life brings our way. It’s all part of who we are and who he is making us to be. For some, that may be a public role on a big stage, but for the vast majority of us, it’s about being faithful in the small stuff: going to the grocery store, volunteering in our kids’ classroom, befriending the new girl, coaching a Little League team, showing up for work every day, being kind to our neighbors.

We need to look for God in the ordinary, everyday things, to pursue our lives and live our dreams and be faithful in the small things, because those are the moments that prepare us for the next thing.

-Melanie Shankle, Church of the Small Things

Maybe we should stop questioning whether what we’re doing at this minute or this stage of our lives is important or worthy and simply, finally believe this: it is all important. To me, that’s so encouraging.

It’s all kind of like that story about the boy with the spool of thread. You know the one? The wise old woman gives Peter a spool of thread that represents the time of his life, and when he gets uncomfortable and wants to skip some part, he does, simply by un-spooling some of the thread. When he gets to the end of his life, and he’s only lived the parts he thought were enjoyable or momentous, who is he? He’s like a shell of a person with an empty life. He didn’t stick around for the crying baby, he couldn’t handle all the school lessons, he wasn’t into working so he skipped the work…yikes. I’m actually glad we can’t do that. But sometimes, we do it as best as we can without a spool of time-thread. I know I do. Distraction, ungratefulness, wishing for other circumstances, it all keeps us from being faithful in the little things.

I’m grateful for Church of the Small Things for finally nailing down the clarity I was seeking in this theme I keep coming back to: the small things become the big things and faithfulness is in every moment.

That is the serious side of the book. What might be even better, though, is that this book will make you laugh. It’s got some deep thoughts in it and that’s what stood out to me after I finished it, but oh, how good it was to laugh out loud while reading about Shankle’s experiences throughout her life. She focuses on stories about seemingly monotonous life experiences that became important, or stories about the people around her whose everyday faithfulness to loving those around them changed the lives around them, one everyday-day at a time, with a huge dose of humor injected in everything.

Church of the Small Things has encouraged me a great deal lately, even more than I anticipated it would. I’m thinking it could encourage many of us, (note: it is mostly geared toward women, though I do force my husband to let me read him particularly funny parts). If you’re thinking about grabbing up a copy, now is the time! There are some pretty cool pre-order bonuses you can get if you order before October 3rd.

Whether you end up reading this book or not, I hope you are encouraged to look at your small moments as more valuable than you realize. As Melanie says, “Nothing is wasted.”

{Plug for future blog post – I’m working up the nerve to post some parenting related thoughts in the coming weeks. It’s been a long season of quiet on that front here at Miathereader.com. If you’re into that, could you comment here if any of these popular posts have resonated with you in the past or do now? Thank you so much, friends!

Put Down the Scissors

Loving the Littles Who Persecute Us

Surface Farming}

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Moxie and Betsy and Other Frivolous Reading: A Quick Lit Review

Happy Quick Lit day! Join me and other book bloggers as we link up over at Modern Mrs. Darcy to share what we’ve been reading lately.

Hello, from the depths of a new school year! I don’t know about you, but living in the southeast of the U.S. has made it a little hard lately to get into the swing of school things, what with eclipses and hurricanes and random holidays (what is Labor Day is about anyway?). I haven’t been updating here on reading or much else because, well, life. But life is good! Even if the reading pace is still about as slow as it has been since I was maybe less than five years old. And I have been keeping it extremely light. Frivolously light. Don’t judge. I’ll get back to War and Peace someday, or at least Martin Chuzzlewit. Here’s a rundown of what I have managed to read in the last month!

What I Read

Of Mess and Moxie, Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker makes us laugh and makes us think and gives us reason to look at Jesus, while also handing over a great recipe here and there in this book–that is a very unique description for a book, wouldn’t you say? Do I agree with her on every viewpoint? No. Do I need to in order to like her book? Again, no. Unless you’re planning on digesting every book you read as absolute truth, you shouldn’t worry about whether or not you’ll agree with every thought someone else presents. I liked this book much better than For The Love – it had more purpose and was written with an undertone of humility that was refreshing and endearing. It’s fun and it’s interesting. Bottom line, I mostly read this for fun and ended up getting more out of it than I expected. (Related Review: 7).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

This is the first book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman. It’s a mix of a realism and fantasy, reminiscent of Madeleine L’Engle (I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot lately). I enjoyed the atmosphere and the style of Gaiman’s writing. The story and the main character (a boy the same age as my son) made me sad. There was a bit of a hopeless feeling to the story. There’s probably a lot of analogies in it that I don’t have the mental bandwidth to explore. Overall, I thought it was well written and moving but a little bit confusing. (Grain of salt disclaimer: sleep deprived mom of a baby reviewing, here.)

The last six books in the Betsy-Tacy Series – I finished all of the books about Betsy when she was grown up. Though the first books in the series were better as far as crafted pieces of literature, the later books were still enjoyable because of the characters, and I actually feel like I gained some valuable every-day wisdom. Maud Hart Lovelace wrote them as mostly autobiographical. Betsy/Maud has a pretty different personality than me, so reading how she related to her parents and her friends through her growing up years actually gave me lot to think about in terms of how to parent my children whose personalities are different than mine. Maybe a fictional series about a girl in the early 1900s is a strange place to find parenting insights, but they are pretty much everywhere. I’m glad I had Betsy and her lighthearted books to take me through this summer.

GraceLaced – Loved. Full review here. (And this and the next one are not frivolous…)

You Are Free, Rebekah Lyons – I like the way Lyons writes, but for some reason, I didn’t really connect with this book.

What I Didn’t Read

I picked up several books based on reviews and their titles this summer, but they simply were not for me. Mostly because in the first few chapters, the content met my explicit threshold. I had been looking forward to The Stars Are Fire, after really enjoying Stella Bain by the same author, but I just couldn’t get past the opening content. We Are Called to Rise gave me the same problem in like the first two pages, but I do still appreciate the inspirational title. When I come downstairs in the morning and look at the piles of dirty dishes on the counter, I take a deep breath and whisper to myself “We are called to rise!” and get to work. Game changer. As for The Alice Network, I actually got 40% done (thank you, Kindle, for your specific progress reports), and still found the characters to be grating and overly foul-mouthed, so I threw in the towel. Really, all I want to read right now are old books. I’m in a book time warp and I’m not fighting it.

What I Read With the Kids

We’re starting off the school year with Half Magic by Edward Eager as our read-aloud and it is awesome. We all laugh and laugh, and learn about fractions while we’re at it. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this book before, but I’m glad our homeschool curriculum starts out the year with this fun read-aloud.

Over the summer, we read In Grandma’s Attic. I read this whole series as a girl, but I was unsure whether Isaac (age 6) would enjoy it. The funny stories and big brothers of the main character made it alright, though! He and the other two kids (ages 8 and 3) requested more chapters every time.

We’re always blazing through picture books around here, so I’ll have to do a picture book round up soon!

Nonfiction, Reviews

GraceLaced: A Review

I’ve never been more excited about anything bookish than I was when I got the email saying I had been chosen to review an advanced copy of Ruth Chou Simon‘s first book, GraceLaced. Her Instagram account alone gives me more sturdy truths than many a whole published book has, and I started admiring her philosophy as a mother when I heard her on The God Centered Mom podcast over two years ago. I knew her book was going to be chock full of goodness. I also knew it would be full of beautiful images, because Ruth Simons is an artist with an eye for the beauty of every day life.

The book came in the mail one hot July day, and I took in the whole title for the first time– GraceLaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart. “Hmm,” I remember thinking, “I’m not sure that this is what I was expecting from this wise and very relevant artist-turned-writer.” I guess I thought a seasononal type devotional was an echo from an earlier Christianese era. I opened it up to begin and saw that the first season of the heart was Winter. “Winter. Weird. Why is this book starting with winter and releasing in the heat of summer?”

As I sunk into the pages morning by morning, I began to understand. The book had to start with “Winter: Resting in God’s Character” because people of God aren’t going to get anywhere in any season if they’re not rooted in who God is. After pulling readers into a place of better understanding God’s unchanging character with words and with paintings and photographs, Simons moves onto “Spring: Rehearsing Truth.” These truths move from who God is to who we are in Him. This part of the book is about removing the lies and the idols in our lives and replacing them with the truth of the gospel in our day-to-day.

From there, we go to Summer: Responding in Faith. The ideas in these devotional entries have a more action involved. For example, one is titled “Above” and addresses how we think. Another is titled “Cast” and deals with anxiety. It’s here that a person who has been around church would find the words that are usually loudest in our talk – what to do and what not to do. Too often, we put these kinds of words first, so that they are burdens for which we don’t feel strong enough. In this order, though, Simons has already refreshed us by presenting first God’s heart for us and our heart for Him. As I moved into the Summer portion of the book, I didn’t feel overwhelmed or tired out by the “we shoulds” at all but ready to respond to what had come before.

Finally, the Fall portion of the book is all about what God has given us. Light for our journey. Peace in Jesus. And after a time to focus on God and what He has made us to be and then what He has given us to do, it’s just about perfect that now we can revel in the ways He has provided for us. I started out thinking the whole seasons of the heart set up would be a little off-putting, and I ended up thinking it could not have been more perfect. I was drawn into true fellowship with God despite that young-mom feeling of being too tired and too pressed for time to fully engage in anything besides maybe a good cup of coffee.

Every one of these pages held goodness and I got so much out of the book as a whole. My very favorite one, though was the first entry titled “Dwell.” And not just because “dwell” is one of my favorite words ever. No, it’s because it piercingly addressed a lie I continue to believe almost every day. All of us have a tendency to take refuge in our surroundings, whether that be a special place on a beach or a comfortable chair in a room. Some of us take a little too much refuge in what are surroundings are like. The lie I fight believing every day is this: “I would be a happy person if only my home were clean.”

I know. It’s dumb. Seriously, that’s what you think you need to be happy?

I have operated that way as a default almost every day of my adult life. And it’s not just because as a stay-at-home/homeschool mom, one of the primary time takers in my life is keeping my domain in order. It goes even deeper than my resentment of the time I have to take from other pursuits to keep things (and people) clean. My default desire for cleanliness and orderliness tunnels back into how I have used keeping things orderly around me as a way to feel in control of life in general. I remember how when high school drama struck, I would always clean out my closet. As an adult with two kids, I was frantic about getting a contract on a specific house during a time when we briefly lived with my parents-in-law, so I dusted all their baseboards while waiting for phone calls from the realtor. When I’m at my mom’s and she’s not home, I try to express my thankfulness for all she does for me by vacuuming the corners of her living room. Wow. Maybe I should try flowers instead? Anyway, I’m not exactly a clean freak or neat freak (I mean, don’t come to my house to find sparkling kitchen counter tops or toothpaste-free sinks), but the cleanliness level that I decide is the one we need to reach takes a pretty hard hand over the rest of my life, and making dirty things clean gives me a ridiculous satisfaction. So you can imagine these words struck a pretty deep chord with me:

Any notion I have of finding comfort and satisfaction in the perfection of my surroundings has simply shown itself for what it is: an idol of the heart that can neither sustain nor deliver. A tidy home (and sometimes a calm and quiet environment) has often been my comfort–my shelter in the midst of crazy-messy seasons. It was never meant to be.

-Ruth Chou Simons

I really should have this taped on my bathroom mirror. Or better yet, the verse that the word “Dwell” comes from: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91: 1. If I could grab hold of that truth about God every morning, that He is my refuge and nothing else in this world is, how much different would my attitude be towards my work and my children? Much.

That and many other (much less domestic) golden truths were brought into my day-to-day life through the words and images of GraceLaced. I hope you run to get your own copy! Order your copy of GraceLaced wherever books are sold by August 31 and receive a free “You Don’t Have To Be Blooming To Be Growing” downloadable print when you register your purchase at gracelaced.com/gracelacedbook.}

Everyday Life

Cherries and Wicker – A Summer Favorite Things List

Back in February, I joined up with Anne Bogel and other bloggers to post about what was saving my life in winter. For sure, winter can be a bleak time when we need some life giving practices and a focus on celebrating the small things. It’s easier to thrive in the summer. Still, there are challenges in summer that make life a bit heavier than we’d like. Take swimsuit shopping, for example. Or cooking in 100 degree weather. So I thought it’d be fun to do a favorite things post in the summer. Because you know I’m always on the lookout for favorite things after failing to have any favorite things a year ago.

Here are a few of my favorite summer things this summer!

  1. Target Swimsuits – I told myself I would be a serious swimsuit shopper this year. I’ve had the same suit for three years and I was sick of it, even thought it was holding up surprisingly well for a $30 Target swimsuit. I scoured all the boutique websites friends were posting for great swimsuits, but nothing called my name. (Shout out to Camellias and Copper for collecting some great options in this post.) Then I happened to be passing through Target with only one child in tow, and thought, “Hey, I’ll just look real quick.” And I found a suit I loved in less than ten minutes. Sold! Apparently I am firmly in the Target swimsuit camp. I’m simply not a serious swimsuit shopper yet.
  2. Rainier Cherries – I always thought these cherries looked gorgeous when I saw them gleaming in the produce aisle, but I never bought them because of the price tag. How different could they be from these much cheaper Washington cherries? Oh, I was missing out. Rainier cherries are my new favorite summer snack. But for my favorite summer dessert, see the next item…
  3. Aldi Super Premium Ice Cream – Aldi is currently selling ice cream with only five ingredients in it – cream, sugar, eggs, milk, and cocoa or vanilla flavor. It is so choice. And only $2.99. Also, their Mango ice cream bars are highly addictive.
  4. Short runs – It’s pretty cool how “in” it is to run in 5ks, 10ks, and lots of other ‘Ks these days. We need better health in our country, and the popularity of running can only be a good thing. But I’ve come to grips with the way I run right now, and that is not with a lot of ‘Ks. My 10-15 minute run three times a week isn’t going to impress anybody, but I love it. I’m up early, I’m outside, I’m moving my body and breathing hard, but I’m not wearing myself out in this time of life when I’m already pretty dang tired.
  5. Wicker chairs – I got two of these wicker chairs from my husband for Mother’s Day/Our 12th Anniversary (they were on the same day this year), and they were every bit as wonderful as I thought they’d be when I oh-so-helpfully e-mailed a link to them to my husband a few weeks before Mother’s Day. (I’m learning.) I love sitting in these every chance I get, but especially early in the morning with coffee.
  6. Games with my kids – I am not as good as I once was at playing imaginatively these days. It’s sad, but I’m too tired and too distracted by my endless to-do lists. I still want to engage in play with my children, though, so having the perimeters that a game gives is invaluable. Our current favorites are Labyrinth and Authors. Uno and Monopoly, Jr. are also go-tos, and our favorite preschool game is and probably will always be Hi-Ho, Cherrio! I’m hoping to get Old Maid soon, another simple card game I think my kids would love.
  7. Ektorp Ikea couches – I’m telling you, once you have a couch that is washable, you might never go back. I’m livin’ the dream here. Sweaty kids/self? Spit-up from baby? Blood from the giant cut my son somehow didn’t realize he had on his foot? The dreaded stomach bug? It all comes out in the wash. They are quite comfortable, too, even according to my husband who was pretty resistant to the idea of Ikea furniture at first. We are now both big fans.
  8. Grass – Grass has made our summer. We’ve been living without it in our backyard for a year-and-a-half, but now that we had a good landscaper come and scrape the backyard of all its ivy and other infestations in June, we have been able to lay down some sod and voila! our backyard is an oasis. Summer vacation to the beach? Not happening this year. But a green backyard is a fabulous trade-off, in this family’s opinion.
  9. Book Launch Teams – I’m on two book launch teams this summer that I am thrilled about! Basically, that means I get to read advance copies of books and write about them. I’m like “eek!” inside every time I think about it. Look for reviews on Ruth Chou Simon’s new book and Melanie Shankle’s new book this month. Both books will release this Fall.
  10. These water bottles are so great for older kids. They don’t break, they don’t leak, they keep things cool. Violet had a smaller one, too, but she went all rogue two-year-old on us and threw it away at a baseball park this spring for no apparent reason. Sheesh. Toddlers. They are so cute and equally crazy.
  11. Every Mile Mattered – Nichole Nordeman released a new album on July 28th. I’m not a fan girl of any band or musician (other than maybe Switchfoot), but this has been on repeat nonstop on my Spotify app. I especially love her rendition of Beautiful Day.

And that wraps up my summer favorite things list! I hope your summer has been full of small and significant delights, and that many more are still to come.