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Literature is my Utopia. - Helen Keller

A place to contemplate books, life, and never ending peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
All The Words! Friday Favorites, Ed. 4

All The Words! Friday Favorites, Ed. 4

A few weeks ago, I had an exciting day. I got a whole bunch of awesome books.

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They’re all great, but Isaac (3) has seized on The Giraffe That Walked to Paris as his current favorite. I thought it was a delightful book…the first time I read it. And the second time, it was pretty good, too. But each page looks like this:

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Look at all those words! Reading aloud to my children is one of my absolute favorite things to do, but a few days after we brought this one home, I had to start telling Isaac to pick a different book. Like, how about War and Peace?

Still, we read this one pretty often. It’s one of those that’s not my favorite even if it is my child’s. However, I am quite glad that Isaac has the capacity and desire to sit still and listen for a good fifteen minutes at a time. In every other setting, he is a ball of energy. My husband and I were joking yesterday about how many photos we have of our girls, but we have so few of Isaac, even though he is one of the cutest things that ever breathed. He’s also one of the fastest! Too quick for a camera.

Aside from The Giraffe, we also started Charlotte’s Web this week. We’re three chapters in and everyone loves it so far. I’m a little afraid of when we get to the end, though! I think it will be the first book we’ve read that ends on a bit of a sad note.

So that’s what the kids are reading this week! For more Friday Favorites, go here. I am loving writing this series, and I’d love any feedback you have to give! And for a great podcast on instilling a love of reading in your kids, check out the Inspired to Action Podcast! The latest one features Sarah Mackenzie from Read Aloud Revival.

October 17, 20140 commentsRead More
Fall Reading List – Fiction Update

Fall Reading List – Fiction Update

So I know all the people on the internet have been holding their breath, waiting to see how the Fall Reading List is turning out. Wait no more! Today I’ll tell you my thoughts on the three novels I’ve read so far.

First, I read Rosie by Ann Lamott. I really wish I had done some more research and asked around about what Lamott book I should start with. My whole purpose was to get a taste of this writer whom so many of my friends admire. I picked one of her earlier novels, and that was a mistake. The characters were so unlikable! Except for Rosie, of course, who was not featured in the book as much as she should have been. Her mother Elizabeth was the main character, and she was a pretty miserable individual. Rosie featured some very dark themes, such as alcoholism, child abuse, sexual immorality, and drug abuse, without offering much hope. On the flip side, I’m looking forward to reading some of Lamott’s books she wrote after converting to  Christianity. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year looks intriguing. I admire Lamott’s writing style.

Next up was The Grapes of Wrath. I chose that American classic because I’m a student of literature and I thought I should finally be acquainted with the infamous Joads. From a literary perspective, it’s clearly a great book. As for whether or not I enjoyed it, I didn’t really. It was raw. I guess that’s what a lot of American Literature is, and that’s why I’m not a big fan. Our country is relatively young and the harsh, hard landscape of American life for the first two centuries makes the literature produced by it pretty rough sometimes. I’m too squeamish for some of it.

Finally, and worst of all, was The Signature of All Things. Elizabeth Gilbert became famous for her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. One of the reasons I read at all is to understand what the people around me relate to and what makes them tick. So many people loved that memoir, I had to pick it up and see what it was about. While I found Gilbert’s search for meaning to be pretty empty, I did like her writing style. The Signature of All Things is Gilbert’s first novel since Eat, Pray, Love. It’s about a botanist named Alma, born in 1800, to a flamboyant scoundrel who becomes rich on botanical medicines, and a Dutch mother. None of these characters are very endearing. What’s worse, the confused, garbled, search for meaning theme from Eat, Pray, Love continues with even less clarity. There is a Creator, there is mysticism, there is evolution, there is harsh Quakerism, and it all makes very little sense to me. What’s worse, the novel drags on for 500 pages (on my Nook) and spends a lot of time on the qualities of moss. I am sure that there is a lot going on under the surface in this novel, but I didn’t find it a worthwhile pursuit.

In conclusion, the novels have been a let down so far. But the nonfiction has been great! So look for some rave reviews on that in the next few days.

 

 

October 14, 20140 commentsRead More
Saturday Cooking, Pumpkin Free Edition

Saturday Cooking, Pumpkin Free Edition

Fall is technically here, though our only clue in these parts is the temps below 70 degrees at night. So it’s time for my three favorite fall recipes.

First, I gotta say, I had no idea that the ENTIRE AMERICAN POPULATION loved all things pumpkin. I mean, I’ve noticed the Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks in the last few years. But then the recipes started popping up everywhere on Facebook and Pinterest and all the cooking shows and websites. Pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin cookies, even pumpkin brownies (!)(I’m sorry, but if you handed me a brownie without chocolate in it, I would probably not hand it back to you because my parents raised me right, but I would shed a few secret tears).

Pumpkin, you are the darling of the season. How sweet.

If only I liked you.

Recipe 1: Cranberry Bread

Cranberry ThanksgivingI had someone ask me recently after learning I don’t like pumpkin all that much, “So, what flavor do you love in the Fall?” I can’t say I’ve ever considered that question before. I didn’t know Favorite Fall Flavors were a requirement. But I have lately been encouraged to “embrace autumn” and I thought it was good advice. So I gave it some thought and here’s the answer: cranberry. I love cranberry. Cranberry bread, cranberry muffins, cranberry juice, all of it. Well, not so much the cranberry sauce from a can. Ick. But all other things cranberry, I love.

It so happens that my favorite cranberry recipe is from a book. It’s called Cranberry Thanksgiving, and the story is great, but the recipe at the back for “Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread” is even better. I can’t give it to you here because that would be copyright infringement, but you should definitely make it! Just be sure to label it if you give it to someone or else that someone might thank you for “the fruitcake,” which is just a big insult to any bread, especially one this good.

Recipe 2: Apple Dumplings

076A close runner up to cranberry goods in my Fall Flavor Guide is apple. (I am having way too much fun here). My favorite apple recipe is absolutely dripping with butter and even contains a can of Mountain Dew. It’s definitely a once a year treat. The Pioneer Woman recommends serving it with ice cream, but I find it challenging to actually get the stuff on a plate. Ijustwanttoeatit! Now. Straight out of the pan. So yeah, it’s kind of good. [....goes to kitchen and starts slicing apples...]

Recipe 3: Butternut Squash Soup

Finally, if there’s one recipe I only make in Fall, it’s Butternut Squash Soup. Oh, it is divine. Unfortunately, my entire family hates it. I plan to make a batch and eat it for lunch for an entire week. Once the midday temps are below 80 degrees. For now, we’re still enjoying our afternoon popsicles on the porch.

Happy Fall!

October 11, 20140 commentsRead More
Friday Favorites, Edition 3

Friday Favorites, Edition 3

It’s been a bit of a rough week on the home front, so we had to shed some tears and drop all our library books into the book drop without going in. My kids (and I) hate doing that. But there’s good that comes of it. We actually read our own books!

The Courage of Sarah NobleThere are some gems on our own shelves that I’ve collected at library books sales over the years. I’ve been looking forward to reading The Courage of Sarah Noblwith Ella (5), but I had no idea that Isaac (3) would also be enraptured by the story. They both sat completely still and listened to the tale of the eight-year-old Sarah who went on the long journey into Connecticut with her father to build a new farm there. Children love heroes, especially ones close to their own age. I’m searching for another chapter book they’ll both like now. I am totally enamored by the joy of that time when we’re all sitting together, taking in a story that is both beautifully told and meaningful for character building. Give me all your suggestions!

For more Friday Favorites, go here.

October 10, 20140 commentsRead More
Friday Favorites, Frog and Toad Edition

Friday Favorites, Frog and Toad Edition

It’s Friday! And it’s the third edition of Friday Favorites! Each week on this blog, I feature our favorite children’s books of the week.

Adventures of Frog and ToadThis week, my children have been “reading” Frog and Toad stories to each other. Neither of them actually read yet (though Ella is very close), but they have certain favorites memorized and they are almost unbearably cute, reciting the story as best they remember it.

I didn’t grow up with Frog and Toad, those wonderful characters created by Arnold Lobel, but I love them now. The story “Tomorrow’ is my favorite! It’s from Days with Frog and Toad I heard it for the first time a couple of years ago. It was bedtime. It had been a crazy day, a day when I felt like A Seagull in a Parking Lot, lost and unable to get anything of “real value” done. Then my husband started reading the story to my children. It opens like this:

“Toad woke up.

‘Drat!’ he said. This is house is a mess.

I have so much work to do.'”

My ears perked up. This Toad sounds just like me! From that point on, I was laughing, kind of hysterically, in the literal sense of the term “hysterical.” I was a little bit crazed and I was finding solidarity in a story about amphibians. Every time Frog points out a mess that needs cleaning, Toad answers “Tomorrow!” It has become my favorite line to quote to my family. Dishes piling up? “Tomorrow!” No food in the cupboards? Tomorrow! Said jokingly of course! Mostly jokingly.

My children love the story “Cookies,” which is also pretty easy for adults to relate to, as Frog and Toad struggle for self control against eating all the cookies. It’s amazing how these simple stories can dig into deeper themes, like being overly competitive with friends, or trying to be brave when you know you’re not. We bought the Adventures of Frog and Toad treasury when our local bookstore closed and it was worth every penny and more. It’s always awesome when my kids’ favorite books are mine, too!

Honorable mentions this week go to Oliver and Harry and the Lady Next Door. Thanks to Uncle Jordan, those books have become favorites at our house, as well.

Until next week, happy reading!

October 3, 20142 commentsRead More
Welcome to Friday Favorites!

Welcome to Friday Favorites!

Welcome to the first edition of Friday Favorites! In this series, the blog will feature our favorite children’s books from the week. If you’re looking for more great children’s books, check out the 31 Days of Picture Books series, or click on the category for children’s books on the left of your screen.

And now, let’s jump right in!

Rosie's Magic HorseOur favorite books this week are by different authors and illustrators, but have a similar look and feel. The first is Rosie’s Magic Horse. It is by the famous writer Russell Hoban of the Frances books, and illustrated by Quentin Blake, better known for his collaboration with Roald Dahl. Rosie’s Magic Horse is the fanciful tale of a girl named Rosie and a box of popsicle sticks with ambition. Yes, it sounds totally strange, but it’s just plain fun. After reading it about ten times, my five-year-old daughter decided to make a “cigar box” by taping together pieces of cardboard and decorating it. It’s currently full of about 15 popsicle sticks. She keeps it by her bed. I have no idea why it’s so special to her, but it makes me smile. Maybe she’s dreaming those popsicle sticks are turning into all kinds of things while she sleeps.

4215399Apparently we’re into magic books this week, because my three-year-old son Isaac’s favorite is The Magic Bedby John Burningham. I have mixed feelings about this book, because I can’t figure the family structure and the adults in it are rather lame. Being an adult myself, I prefer not to be painted in such a light, but I don’t think Isaac is too concerned about it at this point. He just likes the adventure of getting into a bed, figuring out a magic word, and soaring off to fight pirates and rescue lost baby tigers.

Both of our favorite books of this week are on the zany, fantastical side, but my children sure do love them and we will definitely balance them out with books more rooted in reality as we go along.

We sure do enjoy children’s books around here. Stay tuned for more as Friday Favorites continues each week!

September 26, 20140 commentsRead More
What The Kids Are Reading These Days

What The Kids Are Reading These Days

As I sat in my MOPS group this morning listening to a Children’s Librarian speak on early childhood literacy, I realized that it’s been a while since I posted about children’s books we’re enjoying. My oldest daughter is 5 and my son is 3 and we have had a lot of fun reading over the summer. We were kind of slackers on actually going into the library and getting our Summer Reading prizes, but we did manage to finish two days before the deadline. Newborns and libraries are sometimes a great combination…and sometimes not. But our two-month-old Violet is a little more predictable now, so we’re trying to get back in the swing of weekly library trips.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to let my kids pick some of their own books out. Here are their favorites out of what they chose:

The Princess and the Dragon, by Audrey Wood: A fun story about a princess who is dragonly and a dragon who is princessly. Isaac always picks books with dragons if he can find them. He wants to be a knight when he grows up.

The Princess and the Dragon

A World of Food: Discover Magical Lands Made of Things You Can Eat!, by Carl Warner: This book is so gorgeously fun. My artistic 5-year-old loves it. I like that it introduces new foods we can try, too, and that the poem that goes along with the pictures is actually quite lyrical.

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What I picked out:

Amber on the Mountain, by Tony Johnston: a beautiful book with a sweet and sometimes sad story about an Appalachian girl and her longing for friendship and learning. I’ve been dabbling in the Five in a Row curriculum, a literature based unit study for young children. This book was a fun way to talk about geography near us and some more serious topics like friends moving away. I’ve already said something along the lines of “You need to practice writing so you can write letters like Amber!”

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Jam and Jelly by Holly and Nelly, by Gloria Whelan: Poetic and pretty, this book tells the story of a girl and her mother living in rural Michigan. Holly’s mother Nellie is set on Holly not missing school on account of no coat or boats for cold days. She and Holly spend the summer gathering berries, and Holly finds out how hard work can turn into something valuable. I think it’s great that Holly ends the story by saying her summer memories are what keep her warmest, showing that there was value in the work itself, too. And I love how my daughter says, “A red pepper ant stuck his needle in me” when she gets an ant bite now. The imagery in this book is vivid and nostalgic for anyone who has spent a summer day outdoors in the woods.

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I could write all day about children’s books, but I’ll leave it at four for today. I’m thinking of starting a Favorite Friday series, in which the blog will feature our favorite children’s books of the week. Also, October is coming up, and last year that meant a 31 Days of Children’s Book Series. I won’t be committing to blog every day for a month this year because I can hardly post once a week right now! But if you want to re-read some posts, click here.

September 22, 20140 commentsRead More
Fall 2014 Reading List

Fall 2014 Reading List

My Fall Reading List is formed! I’ve tried to supplement my summer reading with some weightier books. Chances are good I will add to this list as the weeks go by, but these are the books I would really like to read.

Fiction

Gilead, Marilyn Robinson

Lilith, George MacDonald

Long Man, Amy Greene

Rosie, Ann Lamott

Peace Like A River, Lief Enger

The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

No Name, Wilkie Collins

Nonfiction

For The Sake of The Children, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

Bringing Up Boys, Dobson

Shepherding A Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp

The Fitting Room, Kelly Minter

To Persia, With Love, Doreen Corley

Beyond Ourselves, Catherine Marshall

Educating the Wholehearted Child, Clay Clarkson

As always, this list is subject to change. In fact, I guarantee it will change.  Unless I know it’s important that I read a certain book, I am not afraid to call a book not worth the time and quit in the middle. I realize some folks can’t handle abandoning a book, but I need that freedom or else I wouldn’t even try half the books I actually come to like.

So what’s on your list this Fall?

Grammar note: I realize you’re not technically supposed to capitalize the names of seasons. I just can’t help it. 

September 16, 20141 commentRead More
The Long Awakening Review

The Long Awakening Review

And now I get to review my favorite book of the Summer!

The Long Awakening, a memoirThe Long Awakening, by Lindsey O’Connor, is so, so good. I saw my friend Lael Arrington post about this book on Facebook earlier this year. I read the synopsis and then decided that, though I wanted to read it, I’d save it for after the birth of my third child. If you’re the type who can imagine herself into a state of paranoid worry (like me), I’d recommend any other pregnant women do the same! But a few weeks after the birth of my third child, I picked up The Long Awakening and drank in this beautifully written book.

The memoir tells O’Connor’s experience of near death and recovery from a 47-day coma immediately after her fifth child’s birth. O’Connor’s descriptions are entrancing. She has the ability to bring you into a hospital room with her, and then right into her head as she describes what coming out of a coma is really like. The narration isn’t chronological, but the back and forth nature of it is perfect for really relating to the story. The reader learns what happened during three different time periods that are like different lifetimes to O’Connor: before the coma, during the coma, and after the coma. Somehow she manages to jump back and forth while creating a complete and easy to follow timeline, filling in gaps here and there. The effect is that the reader better understands what her recovery was like–a lot of gaps that needed to be filled in for her to feel fully conscious and alive.

Beyond the writing, I was fascinated by how O’Connor, a woman of strong faith, wrestles with the darkness of her experience. This is not your typical “Heaven is for Real” or “90 Minutes in Heaven” story. There was no flash of light and warm cocoon sensation for O’Connor. As O’Connor recovers and wrestles with her experience of near death as a Christian, I appreciated her stark honesty and her realizations that came in their own time.

Violet - 8-18-14-30On a personal note, this book put my own blessings in perspective. As I read it sometimes in the middle of the night while holding my tiny newborn, warm and rosy in my arms, I wanted to soak in the experience more than I ever. The ability to care for my baby from the minute she is born until she’s grown is something I’ve taken for granted. The Long Awakening changed my attitude towards the exhaustion that comes with a newborn. Though there were some wee hours when I thought I could do with a small coma…you know just 24 hours or so…

Definitely check out The Long Awakening next time you’re looking for a riveting, exquisite, and thought provoking read.

See what else I read this Summer, or find my list of favorites.

Photo cred: Wenzel Photography

September 11, 20141 commentRead More
Summer Reading Snippet Reviews

Summer Reading Snippet Reviews

Well. It has been a coon’s age since I wrote a review. People tell me all the time, “I used to enjoy reading, but then I had kids.”

To which I say, “Whatever.”

Okay, okay, yes, it gets harder to read for fun when you have kids. I agree, and I’m not judging you.

Still, I find that this newborn stage is when I get more reading done than any other time in my life (besides the knee surgery time). What else am I going to do during those 3 o’clock/every other o’clock feedings? So while there hasn’t been much activity on the blog, I have been reading. Reading with a book in one hand and a baby in the other is much easier than typing a review for the blog with one hand. In short, I have been reading a lot and reviewing nothing. In an effort to catch up, this is a quick list and some snippet reviews of what I’ve read in the last two months.

A Long Time GoneA Long Time Gone, by Karen White

Karen White is a great writer. I don’t enjoy her earlier works because of the ghostliness (just not my thing), but she is so good at making her settings come to life. This is the second book I’ve read by her and it’s my favorite so far. The main characters are memorable and real. There are just certain phrases that take on their own meaning and are so right in the plot. “Yet here you are,” will never mean the same thing to me. You have to read it to know what I mean. White always has a dark element to her works, but this one has a good side of redemption, too. I enjoyed it.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling

It’s kind of weird that I read this book at all, because I don’t watch The Office or The Mindy Project. A few bloggers whose work I enjoy mentioned it was funny, so I checked it out. It was funny. And that’s all I have to say about that.

A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet, by Sophie Hudson

This book is made of vignettes about the author’s family and their Southern traditions and funny stories. It was fun to read, but not all that relatable for me. I’m Southern, but I’m not that Southern. =) Still, a nice, enjoyable, light read.

The Girl on the Cliff, by Lucinda Riley.

Status: abandoned. There was no redeeming value in this book and I wasn’t enjoying it at all. I got about 1/3 of the way through.

The Aviator's WifeThe Aviator’s Wife, by Melanie Benjamin

This is a popular pick for book clubs right now, but I couldn’t figure it out. It was all about a very unhappy marriage to a famous guy. I guess that’s just not my type of book. Also abandoned 1/3 of the way, through. Apparently my theory is if you can’t find any reason to keep going after 1/3 of the book, you’re well entitled to pitch it. (I mean return it to the library, of course; don’t actually throw the book away).

The Glory Cloak, Patricia O’Brien

I discovered that Kate Alcott is actually a pen name for the author Patricia O’Brien. Since I’ve really enjoyed the two books by “Kate Alcott,” I was excited to read work by Patricia O’Brien. Unfortunately, O’Brien does the whole “I love this literary character so I’m going to imagine a plot about her and write some fiction.” The Glory Cloak is about Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton, and their imagined friendship. It sounded intriguing, but yet again, I found myself abandoning a book. O’Brien painted Louisa in a harsh, overbearing way. I’m sorry, but I can’t believe she was actually like that and wrote the things she did. The last thing I need is a fictional account of someone to ruin their good reputation in my mind. That’s just silliness.

Morning Glory and Goodnight June, by Sarah Jio

Goodnight JuneSarah Jio has been my favorite summer read author this summer. Her plot lines can get a little predictable, though. By the time I got to Morning Glory, the fourth book I’ve read by her, the mystery element of it was not quite so fun and the characters from other books were starting to mesh together in my mind. Jio’s books are probably all enjoyable in their own right if you don’t read them back to back to back. Then I read Goodnight June, Jio’s most recent book, which really didn’t have the artistry that Jio usually puts into a book. Still, if you like literary fiction and you like the children’s book Goodnight Moon, it was a fun trip into an imagined history of the book. As I mentioned earlier, imagined histories of literary figures kind of bother me, but I was able to suspend belief for this book and I wasn’t too attached to Margaret Wise Brown to begin with. Besides, she is quite endearing in this fictional account of her. And I actually didn’t see the twist at the end coming, so it wasn’t all that bad. I just missed the descriptiveness and felt the character and plot development was very rushed. Some events transpire too suddenly and neatly to be believable.

There’s one other book I’ve read and loooved, but I will write a separate post reviewing that one, so stay tuned!

I’ll also be posting my Fall reading list soon. I had fun reading this Summer, but my reading list was sorely lacking of classics and deeper works of fiction or nonfiction. When I’m in this sleepless, hormonal stage of late pregnancy and newborn mothering, it’s crucial for me to keep the mood light in my reading. Plus, my brain is just so tired. But my baby slept for six straight hours two nights in a row, so maybe the exhausted-beyond-belief stage is easing up. My Fall list will include more non-fiction and some classics I’ve been meaning to read for a while. So look for my Fall reading list here soon!

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September 8, 20140 commentsRead More