Winter Reads: 2019

At the beginning of the year I realized I had lost my love for reading — mostly from burning myself out on parenting books I felt obligated to read. Many of these are helpful but I noticed when I wanted to burn every parenting book I saw that it was probably time for a break from all the “do this to be a better that” stuff.

I declared 2019 the year in which I read whatever the heck I feel like and behold, I fell in love with stories and words all over again. Now that I’m enjoying books once more I thought it would be fun to do a seasonal recap sharing what I read. Here’s a quick look at the books I read from December to February.

Escape to Vindor by Emily Golus

Fantasy, 354 pages

This was a fun book to read in part because the author, Emily, was also my college roommate. Writing is hard work so it’s pretty cool to see someone I know who studied to be a writer actually doing the work and following through with her dream.

Vindor was a fun break from my normal book genres. I haven’t read anything like this since I finished The Lord of the Ring series. Think Lord of the Rings meets The Chronicles of Narnia and you have an idea of the fun and adventure you’ll be diving into with this story. Find it here.

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

Travel Memoir, 268 pages

My sister-in-law gave me this book for my birthday last year and as soon as I cracked it open I couldn’t put it back down. I loved both the writing style and getting to travel with the author through different countries and adventures. It did no good for my own wanderlust as I now have a bunch more places on my list I must see 😉 Find it here.

Wanderlust and my longing for home are birthed from the same place: a desire to find the ultimate spot this side of heaven. When I stir soup at my stove, I drift to a distant island. When I’m on the road with my backpack, my heart wanders back to my couch, my favorite coffee cup. My equal pull between both are fueled by my hardwired desire for heaven on earth. And I know I’ll never find it.

Tsh Oxenreider

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller

Christian Living, 46 pages

This was a super short read at under 50 pages but it packs a punch. I marked all over the pages and plan on re-reading this at least once a year. Highly recommend. Find it here.

The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.

Timothy Keller

Come To Jesus by Christa Threlfall

Christian Living, 92 pages

Christa, like Emily, is someone I went to college with so when I saw she was publishing a book, I signed up for the launch team to read the book and cheer her on. Like The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, this is a short book with big impact. Christa did a great job reminding readers that true hope and help are not found in a change of circumstances but in Jesus alone. I was encouraged to look at hard things as opportunities to grow and draw closer to the Lord rather than seeing them simply as things to get through. Find it here.

Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman

Historical Nonfiction, 330 pages

This is the first book I purchased after I decided to read whatever I wanted. Before, reading a whole book about Alexander the Great just for fun didn’t seem like the best use of my time. I was wrong. Not only did this book improve my understanding of history and culture, there were stories that made me question my motives and character and interesting parallels to Christianity and the spread of the gospel — so how’s that for a waste of time 🙂 I’m looking forward to reading more books in this genre as it ended up being something I really enjoyed. Find it here.

So tell me, what are you reading/recommend? I’m always looking for ideas so share away!

Why Do You Read the Blogs You Do?

What is it about a particular blog that draws you in and makes you want to read more? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately: Why do I read some blogs and skip over others?

For me it comes down to whether or not I’m interested in and inspired by the person behind the blog.

My favorite blog is by a girl named Aura and I can’t get enough of her writing and photography—but why? She’s just a person telling stories and sharing snap shots of her life so why do I care what this stranger does with her days?

I care because I’m fascinated and inspired by her. I’m inspired by all the beauty she creates in her life and fascinated by the way she lives. Watching her life through the stories and pictures shared on her blog inspire me to go out and do more with myself—and I like that.

Another one of my favorite bloggers/artists is Katie Daisy. Katie is my favorite artist because what she creates fascinates and inspires me—just like Aura’s words and photos do. I love the way Katie combines colors and textures into whimsical little paintings and her work makes me want to transform everything around me into something dripping with color and beauty.

I also read blogs that resonate with me and the way I live.

Blogs about nature and the outdoors, photography and art, faith and family—these are just a few of the things that speak deeply to me and draw me into the writing of others with similar interest.

Both Aura and Katie are Midwest girls who grew up in the prairies of Oklahoma and Illinois. The words they write and the art they create resound deeply with my love for the prairies. I feel connected to these artists in a way because we each share a deep love of this one common thing—the flatlands, the woods, the birds and trees
the places and things that speak to us about where we are from and who we have become.

Both of these artists inspire me to create more beauty in my life. They inspire me to live better, write better, and create from a place deep inside my soul that is genuine and true.

There are very few bloggers who reach me in this way but whenever I come across someone who does, I can’t get enough of their words and stories. I want to dive into their world and understand everything that makes them who they are. I want to go away from their words and pictures and create something just as beautiful and inspiring with my own words and stories.

What draws you into a blog? What determines who your favorite writers and artists are?

{Bread and Wine Book Review} Life Around the Table

Have you heard of Shauna Niequist? I’ve been gobbling up her writing lately so when I had the chance to review her latest book, Bread & Wine, I jumped at the opportunity.

Bread & Wine is all about building life and friendship and community around the table. It’s about opening your heart and home to people and letting them in to be fed and loved.

Shauna writes:

“This is what I want you to do: I want you to tell someone you love them, and dinner’s at six. I want you to throw open your front door and welcome the people you love into the inevitable mess with hugs and laughter” (p. 256).

bread&wine_cover_art

After finishing Bread & Wine, that is exactly what I wanted to do—throw open the door to my home and let people in to be fed and nourished. Shauna’s book is filled with a collection of recipes—some her own, some from friends, others from restaurants and cookbooks—all look delicious. I decided I would take Shauna’s challenge to let people into my home and life by inviting a few friends over for dinner.

I have a group of friends who get together every now and then for what we call “Girls Night.” All that means is the husbands watch the kids and the girls hang out watching a movie or going out to eat. After reading Shauna’s words though, I thought it would be nice to have all the girls over for a real dinner made at home instead of snacks or restaurant food. I chose a couple of recipes from the book and worked out a time when everyone could get together.

I have to admit, I’m not a very good hostess because I get nervous about everything not being perfect. My house is tiny and there are never enough matching glasses or chairs at the table. I’ve let little things like this keep me from having people over. I always tell myself I’ll be more hospitable when I have more room…when we have a real dining room and enough forks for an army…sure, sure.

Shauna encouraged me with this:

What people are craving isn’t perfection. People aren’t longing to be impressed; they’re longing to feel like they’re home. If you create a space full of love and character and creativity and soul, they’ll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest, no matter how small, no matter how undone, no matter how odd” (pp. 106-107).

I reminded myself of those words whenever I worried about not having enough room or messing up the food.

On the day we were all getting together my friend Sarah stopped by early, when I was still in yoga pants with messy hair, to drop off home-made Mexican ice cream. I tasted a spoonful before she left and about died and went to glory—it was that good.

I spent the day grilling chicken and corn and prepping the food. Evening rolled around and the girls trickled in one by one, two by two. Jessie came first with a salad. We stood in the kitchen talking and laughing. Next came Sarah with Emily. We spread out in the kitchen and talked some more. Maya and Alicia came last with my little baby nephew. I took the baby out of his car seat and snuggled him up with kisses…aunties rights, you know.

We were crowded in the kitchen now with dishes coming out and different conversations bubbling over into laughter. We filled our plates we enchiladas, salad, and Mexican grilled corn. I didn’t have enough chairs at the table, of course, so we ate in the living room instead. Even then, three of us ended up sitting on the floor with plates in our laps. That is one of the reasons I don’t normally invite very many people over—who wants to have company sitting on the floor while they eat dinner? Well you know what, it didn’t matter a bit.

We talked and laughed, told stories and went back for seconds; we looked at pictures and caught up on each other’s lives. Soon we were streaming back into the kitchen for bowls of Sarah’s Mexican ice cream and brownies on the side. We filled mugs with coffee and hot chocolate and talked and talked.

Before Darren left that night he asked what time I thought we would be done. We were getting together at six so I told him we would probably be done by eight…I think it was ten. We just kept talking and laughing and every time someone would say something about needing to leave, another story would start and no one ever quite made it out the door. I love that. I loved the whole night. In fact, I think I needed it.

Life is busy and demanding and I forget sometimes when I’m hurrying through one day right into the next that I need to stop and make time for people, for love and friendship and community. I need these girls in my life because they remind to slow down and live for what really matters. They make me laugh and build me back up when I’m tired and torn down. They love me and encourage me even though I’m not perfect and never have enough chairs at the table. I need them and I’m so thankful Shauna’s book reminded me of that. I’m so thankful Shauna’s words gave me the push I needed to throw open the door to my home and my heart. I’m so thankful I invited people in and they came and filled a need I’d forgotten I had. I need friendship and love and community. I need life around the table to feed my heart and soul. We all do.

Look kids, I’m not trying to sell you anything. It’s true, this book was given to me to review but what I’m telling you are my own thoughts and feelings. I love Shauna’s words and I love this book. I hope you will read it because I sincerely believe you will love it too. You will be challenged and encouraged to slow down and live. To taste and feel and to let people in. That’s the truth and that is all :]

shauna1About Shauna:

Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines, Bittersweet, and Bread & Wine. Shauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois, and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She is married to Aaron, who is a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is recording a project called A New Liturgy. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life–friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God.

Shauna blogs at ShaunaNiequist.com

How Reading Taught Me to Write

I had a lot of trouble learning how to read when I was a kid. I don’t remember how old I was when I finally put the words together, I just remember being the very last kid who could make her way through the jungle of words in a book. None of it made sense to me. I couldn’t grasp how the letters and sounds were supposed to come together and actually mean something. I thought I was stupid and really believed there was something wrong with me. I believed I would never be smart like other people. I hated reading. I hated books. I hated words. I couldn’t spell. I couldn’t even pronounce words correctly. I avoided books and reading because they reminded me of how stupid I thought I was and brought to my attention everything I wasn’t good at.

I was a physical kid—always outside climbing trees and building forts with my brothers. I didn’t want to sit still and learn anything. I believed I couldn’t learn and that I wasn’t smart enough to understand like other people.

But then when I was 11 I picked up a book called The Penny Whistle by B. J. Hoff and something changed inside of me. I have no idea why I picked that book up or cracked it open because it wasn’t something I normally did. I remember loving the illustrations in the book—crisp, detailed pencil drawings that looked like you could touch the page and get graphite on your fingers; perhaps that’s what drew me in. Regardless, it was the words that kept me. Finally, for the first time in my life, words made sense; they ran off the page like water and I drank them up—consumed them one by one to the very last page.

I pulled The Penny Whistle off my bookshelf today—it’s tattered with a piece of tape on the cover. My name is written in black marker on the inside cover with the date July 18, 1997. I flipped through the pages and found the grubby fingerprints off an 11-year-old throughout. The book falls open to my favorite illustration of a tree standing stark against a winter backdrop.

When I held that book today I actually had to stop and take a deep breath to fight back tears. Why? Because that simple little book changed my life. I don’t even remember what the book is really about; the story is lost but the change it brought inside of me remains. When I poured over that book as an 11-year-old girl, I found something inside of myself. I found words. I found ability and intelligence. I found stories. I came alive and knew I had value, capability, and something to share. I went from hating books to loving them—loving the stories held inside two covers. I fell in love with words and began to see them as colors on a palette and the blank page as my canvas. There, reading that book, I fell in love with writing.

When I was a teenager, I remember being sick and bored one day so I cracked open Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. The name Daddy-Long-Legs amused me and, for no other reason, I started reading. I read the whole book that day without ever putting it down. I’m not an avid reader even now so it means something when I can’t part with a story until it’s finished. I gobbled up each book by Webster and learned one important thing from her stories—the writer’s voice. I don’t know how to describe Jean Webster—her imagination, her childishness, her sharp sense of humor—she wrote like she was having a witty conversation with each of her readers. I fell in love with her style and find now that my own voice in writing grew out of the whimsy I so love in her books.

Even though I struggled through school and language has always been a challenge for me, I have found that reading is the best lesson I ever learned in writing. In reading, I actually see the way language is laid out on a page in sentences and paragraphs. Instead of just hearing about and practicing the proper construction of individual sentences and parts of speech, I can actually visualize and grasp sentence structure as I read. The more I read, the more I learn about writing. The more I write, the more I want to read and learn more and more from the words and characters acting out the world of grammar on the page. I may never be a very good student. I may never be able to fully understand the complexities of the English language. But I do know the more I read the words of good writers, the better writer I too can be.

“The problem was too big for the lot of them. But her mother always maintained that you had to start where you were or you’d never get anywhere at all” (p. 37, The Penny Whistle).

Dealing With Regret

“It could have all turned out differently, I suppose. But it didn’t.” Jane Austen in Mansfield Park

Jane Austen was a master at studying and communicating human nature through the written word. This one sentence speaks volumes to me, simply, because it quiets so many of the “would have, could have, should have been” thoughts that haunt us about past mistakes and missed opportunities. It is true, the smallest change in circumstances could have changed everything–but it didn’t and nothing is accomplished by wishing it had.

My grandma told me a story about my great-grandparents flipping a coin to decide whether they would move from Kansas to Colorado or Missouri. The coin landed on the Missouri side and so every generation following them also lived in Missouri. At the flip of a coin I could have been a Colorado girl, or perhaps, not been at all–but I am and I am a Missouri girl–nothing can change that, for better or worse.

The same is true when my husband and I were deciding where to live after we got married. I didn’t want to stay in Missouri and he didn’t want to stay in Maine so, on a whim, we chose Massachusetts. We could have chosen any place any where and everything could have turned out differently–but it didn’t. The whole of our married lives hinged on the not-very-well thought out whims of two 20 something year olds who knew nothing about the impact that decision would make–but it was made and it cannot now be unmade (and fortunately, it was not a mistake!).

Quite simply, we must not live our lives in the past, ever dwelling on how things could have turned out differently–if only. There is no “if only”; there is only today.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

-Robert Frost